Engineering a path to graduation

It should come as no shock that the current job market in Alaska has taken a few substantial cutbacks. Oil had dropped below $30 a barrel a few times this past year and big employers like Shell, B.P. and ConocoPhillips have had to layoff employees continually.

The scarcity of jobs will effect a wide variety of students moving forward after college. For one group of graduates, it might be more nerve-racking than others. Engineers are always in high demand, at least that’s the attitude that has been drilled into the graduating engineering students of UAA for the last 4-6 years, but the times they are a changing. With the state facing big budget problems, some engineering students are going to be faced with more challenges than they had expected in finding jobs.

“There are definitely less internships this year,” Donovan Parker, a Civil Engineering student graduating in December, said. “I’ve called around, looked online, spoke with other students, and it seems the consensus is companies are just not in a position to bring on interns right now.”

While UAA engineering graduates are worried, UAF petroleum engineering students may have it the worst. According to Parker, those are the graduates who may face the most difficulty with finding jobs. The state of Alaska is always in constant need for many types of engineers. Even with the current economic challenges that face the state, it is still a very extreme weather climate. This means that there is constantly a need a repairs on roadways, water and waste transfer, as well as developing new ways to keep rural Alaskans safe from the extreme weather.

“Engineering opportunities in Alaska will most likely always be necessary,” Fred Barlow, Dean of the College of Engineering said in an interview earlier this year. “Even with the price of oil low right now it relatively cyclical.”

It seems as though jobs are scarce in Alaska and that any jobs related to the oil market are somewhat unpredictable. UAA offers many different types of engineering programs though that are also just as high in demand in our state. Those programs include: civil engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, computer systems engineering, electrical engineering, geomatics, Arctic engineering, project management, and engineering & science management. All of which can be utilized for jobs that aren’t necessarily related to the unpredictable oil market.

Students graduating this year remain optimistic about searching for jobs. Even with the current job market slightly slowed down engineering grads like Brenden Welsh, a geomatics major, are just happy to be at the point of graduation and for a few other changes coming in the next weeks.

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“It’s another: milestone in life; a large amount of effort to get behind me; and a pathway to open doors ahead of me,” Welsh said. “My first child is due on May 1, same day as commencement. Nothing in life could be more exciting.”

The College of Engineering is also not worried about their future. While the state’s fiscal situation looks grim, enrollment into the UAA College of Engineering is high with over 1,200 students currently enrolled in Engineering programs. Dean Barlow only expects that number to continue to rise.

“Each year we have a slight increase in our program numbers, we have not lost students due to the economy,” Barlow said.

While many students may not be as motivated this time of year as Welsh and Parker they advice engineering students to “keep on truckin.”