Leaders at Caterpillar visit Illinois
When Dana Coldren (MSME ’90), engineering manager at Caterpillar, hired MechSE alumni Sunil Bean (BSEM ’12) and Jess Perschbacher (BSME ’02, MSME ’04), both joined the Leadership and Technical Development Programs (LTDP) at the company.
On February 19, Coldren, Bean, and Perschbacher visited the ME 390 class to discuss how Illinois prepared them for their careers at Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.
After Coldren earned his master’s degree, he wanted to be a part of the company for its focus on engine development, the pay and benefits, and CAT’s proximity to his home and family.
But why did CAT choose Coldren? According to the engineering manager, he possessed three elements that employers look for in an applicant’s resume: good grades, work experience, and extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership.
The speakers shared a few skills that employees should demonstrate in their engineering careers once they’re hired. To Bean, these include learning to organize, communicate, and be professional. Bean’s rotations in LTDP included working as an associate engineer, in Pontiac manufacturing, and mechatronics.
Bean suggested that engineering students learn to organize early to prepare for information management in the future. “You can get lost in your electronic files quickly, especially when you have an engineering career and you are constantly getting new information,” Bean said.
He notes the importance of communication as well. He said engineers may have great ideas, but they virtually do not exist if they cannot explain those ideas to others.
“The first time you interact with someone, be professional,” Bean said. “I’ve noticed that U of I not only makes engineers, it makes leaders. A lot of the technical stewards, the high analysts, the high managers at Caterpillar are from the U of I. Be proud of that and think of that as continuing in that legacy, moving forward.”
Meanwhile, after Perschbacher’s 10 years of working at CAT, she recommends that students “diversify with a focus” to prepare for their careers. Her rotations in LTDP were all focused on after treatment: design validation, performance testing, manufacturing, and marketing.
“Most of my career so far has been on one product,” Perschbacher said. She later added, “It turns out that this was a really great decision, for everyone involved.”
After focusing on different aspects of one product for the duration of four rotations, Perschbacher found that she developed expertise in after treatment and explored different aspects of engineering. She found she was “developing depth and breadth at the same time.”
Lastly, Coldren warned students that engineering career paths are prone to change and suggested that they be flexible.
“You are going to put a lot of work into something, and then somebody is going to change the rules,” Coldren said. “Move on, and don’t lose any energy or enthusiasm.”