As a manufacturing engineer at Boeing, UIUC graduate Jonathan is the picture of success. But he confesses he felt a step behind his peers when he first started college. We sat down with Jonathan to talk more about his trajectory of growth at UIUC, what he’s working on now, and what’s next on the horizon.
Tell us one of the highlights of your UIUC experience.
I was in school right when COVID was starting up, so there were a lot of classes that went remote. And to me, something that was very special was how a lot of the labs in my ME [mechanical engineering] classes were able to remain in person. One that I particularly remember was my senior design class, which was ME 470. And even [with] the COVID measures, there was still the opportunity for us to interact with our teammates in person and on-site.
I thought it was very special for them to go to such extremes, being able to provide us with the same opportunity that other classes had in the past, because I know that wasn’t the case for every class [during the pandemic]. It was a class I was looking forward to for a while, and I was really happy with the way it turned out.
What kind of resources did you use at UIUC to help with the transition to college life?
Being a first-generation college student, I sought out and joined the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers [SHPE]. And it was through them that I was able to connect with other students who had gone through similar experiences.
Some things that may seem trivial to others—such as creating a LinkedIn, knowing to reach out to mentors, or that you can even reach out to professors for help outside of the classroom—were all very foreign to me because I didn’t have any prior experience in my life.
There were definitely lots of opportunities on campus like SHPE, [and] I signed up for [the] Morrill Engineering Program on campus that helped expose me to a lot of opportunities. I did [initially] feel like I was starting a step behind everyone else, but with all these opportunities, it certainly helped me feel like I wasn’t.
What specific campus resources would you recommend students seek out when looking for support or advice?
I am a big proponent of looking for mentors. I had various student mentors and they were the ones who helped me out the most in my earlier years as far as knowing what classes to choose, how I should plan out all my classes, and that I should create a four-year plan and start looking ahead to make sure I was on top of all my courses and all the requirements to graduate.
And I feel like for a freshman, the most important thing is developing that four-year plan and making sure that you’re not putting yourself in a difficult situation down the road. One of the best ways to do that is to talk to other more senior students who are in your program. They’ll know all the best classes to take or even classes that they have found interesting and valuable to their careers.
What advice would you give to UIUC students who are interested in meeting mentors or other people in their sphere of interest but don’t know how to start?
I think the hardest part with building a network is getting started. And I know for me, I’m naturally a shy person, so I’m not as comfortable being very outgoing. It honestly felt a bit out of character for me to start reaching out to other people, especially asking for help. Now that I’m an alum and I’m just eagerly waiting for someone to reach out and ask for help, I can say that it feels nice when someone else seeks out your advice.
So, my biggest recommendation would be to not be afraid to reach out and ask for help from older students or alum you may know. It can be intimidating to approach them, or even to approach a professor, but I will say that from my experience reaching out, I’ve never gotten a bad response.
How did you find the opportunity at Boeing?
Funnily enough, I got my Boeing offer [to interview] through the National SHPE Conference.
As far as getting the actual job, one or two days before [the interview] I was practicing with another student at UIUC who had also received an offer to interview with Boeing. We were both researching the company, researching good questions to ask. We also reached out to a UIUC [and] SHPE alum that was currently working at Boeing. He worked with us and helped answer all our questions regarding the company. He gave advice as to how we should answer questions and what sort of characteristics [and] skills we should highlight based on what might be useful for those positions or that Boeing is looking for. So it was through SHPE I was able to land the job.
Tell us about your job so far. Is it what you expected it to be?
Right now, I am a manufacturing engineer working on the 777X, which is going to be the new commercial airplane for Boeing. I really like my job. I’m very happy with the job I landed, [because] Boeing was the company I wanted to work for.
I guess [something] a bit unique about my position compared to other engineering positions, or what people would traditionally think an engineering position would be, is that I do need to use a lot more interpersonal communication skills compared to other engineering professions.
Did UIUC help prepare you for that?
[I took several courses] that did require teamwork and presenting, an aspect that isn’t as common in other schools, from what I’ve heard. And I feel like at UIUC, we have so many different classes that give the opportunity for you to interact one-on-one with classmates, [and then] at the end, you’re presenting all that information to the class, to the professor. My communication skills improved, whereas they probably wouldn’t have in a different program. And for that reason, I feel more confident in my current position.
What are some of your plans and goals for the future?
It’s funny that you [ask] that, because today I reached out [to] the mentor program at Boeing and was just matched with the mentor. One of my goals for moving forward, just like at UIUC, [is] to plan out my future steps. … Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is switching over to the space industry, and luckily within Boeing, that’s very easy to do. They encourage movement within the company and facilitate it. A lot of the time you don’t even have to reapply for a position; it’s pure word of mouth. So, I think I’m going to continue building my network, because that’s never a bad thing, and it’s very helpful to have people you can reach out to.
Any more words of advice?
I guess my last piece of advice would be for everyone who’s still working hard toward their degrees to take time to enjoy it. I know it flies by, but looking back, I definitely do miss it. It’s stressful in the moment, but it is a lot of fun even when things get hard. It creates a lot of lasting memories with a lot of great people, so definitely take time to enjoy it.