Building on Experience With a Carefully Designed Co-Op Path

 Toby Pham sits at a computer

Engineering can be found in any problem-solving process. Take origami, for example. To create a paper sculpture, you must carefully plan each fold and step. Then you have to fold exactly as you planned to get the desired result. Before you know it, you’ve engineered a sculpture out of a flat sheet of paper. Hobbies like this can spark a passion for engineering – and can explain why students like Toby Pham ultimately landed on engineering.

The fourth-year mechanical engineering major from Royersford, Pennsylvania, turned an early childhood love for origami into a passion for engineering design when, in high school, he was introduced to CAD software. The design program helped him realize that his love of problem solving could be applied to a discipline with diverse opportunities: mechanical engineering.

Pham kept the diversity of his field in mind when he was choosing his co-ops. Each job gave him a vastly different and wonderful experience. For his first co-op, he worked at Adams Bickel Associates, a construction management company. Pham said that the job set a strong foundation for the rest of his co-op career.

“I’ve always believed that being in construction management as a first co-op gave me an edge because of the experience I gained from my time on site,” he said. “I learned so much about the basics of construction.”

From there, Pham tried his hand at an engineering consulting firm as a junior mechanical engineer and gained experience in HVAC engineering and design. When it came time to choose a third co-op, Pham knew that he wanted to continue the theme of picking up new experiences. He found the chance at Burns Engineering.

The environment at Burns helped Pham settle in and get to work quickly. “I remember, during the interviews, being shown around the office and amazed by the size of the place,” he stated. “Everyone is always ready to help with anything or answer any questions.”

He joined Burns Engineering as a secondary designer and engineer, helping with the workload of the senior designer and senior engineer in the aviation department. So far, he’s worked on designing the air distribution system for the Newark Airport’s new ConRAC facility, a parking garage containing their rental car centers.

The co-op has given Pham a chance to put what he’s learned in his fluid mechanics and thermodynamics courses to use.

"I do calculations to find out how much air is needed in each space,” he explained. “Then I design the system in a 3D drafting software called Revit, which I learned on the job.”

Pham said that the work experience has also allowed him to hone his soft skills, including organization, memorization, and workplace communication. “When I return to the classroom, I know I’ll be organized and memorize better,” he said. Until he returns, though, he is excited to make the most of the time he has left on co-op.

“There’s much more to learn and absorb,” he said. “But I enjoy the work I do.”

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