When Nicholas Theiss arrived at Cal Poly Pomona as a transfer student three years ago, he quickly realized that the lessons learned outside of the classroom are as important as those inside. Working with a team, joining a club and collaborating on a group project help build communication and organizational skills that are essential for a mechanical engineer, he says.
In his first mechanical engineering design course, the professor assigned three group projects and several class presentations. Theiss, who came from Riverside Community College, began developing those fundamental skills, which would prepare him for the future.
“Most of the jobs out there are on engineering teams. There’s no single engineer,” Theiss says. “They all require that ability to communicate with someone who’s not doing the same task as you.”
Theiss keeps a full schedule outside of class. His resume includes events coordinator and vice president of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, lab tech in the mechanical engineering projects lab and part-time employee at Kap Medical, a medical manufacturing company.
“You can’t get all the experience if you just go to class and lectures,” Theiss says. “That’s where the clubs come in — to use and develop the other skills that you wouldn’t necessarily have to.
“You have to be in clubs, and you have to take officer positions. You can’t just be a member. You might not think it’s a big deal to pick up a pizza for a meeting or reserve a room, but it’s a challenge you normally wouldn’t have.”
Last summer, Theiss interned at a Chevron refinery in El Segundo, and he immediately put his academic and social skills to work. He juggled up to five projects at a time, each with a different priority and completion date. In order to diagnose and solve problems, he had to gather information from people in other departments.
“That sometimes is the hardest part,” he says. “You can’t have a good design until you have all the information. And having all the information requires a certain level of communication.”
Chevron evidently liked Theiss’ abilities, and in September, the company offered him a full-time design engineering position after graduation. He will be graduating Magna Cum Laude on June 13 with an overall GPA of 3.72. In July, he will marry Ashley Gibson, ’09, psychology, his fiance of six years.
“The hands-on education and real-world experience offered by Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Engineering allow students like Nick to be successful in industry,” says Cordelia Ontiveros, associate dean of the College of Engineering.
Because of his success, Ontiveros invited Theiss to share his story with Riverside Community College students. “As an example of a very successful student, Nick is part of the university’s efforts to smooth the journey from Riverside Community College to Cal Poly Pomona,” she says.
Theiss has spoken to hundreds of students as part of the university’s efforts to increase interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The university received a $4.1 million grant from the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 to build a pipeline of students into STEM disciplines, enhance the community college transfer process, improve technology, and expand tutoring services and undergraduate research opportunities.
His message is simple and close to the heart: “I always talk about the projects and the labs, the hands-on experience and the professors who have actually worked in industry and have connections with industry. I tell them about how the cost is low, that you can do a lot of your courses at the community college level and transfer right into an engineering program, which saves you a lot of money and time.”