When Michael Devine spent a day at St. Arnold Brewing Company just outside of downtown Houston, he knew the experience would be useful. After all, he’d done multiple externships before, both at Cactus Wellhead and BHP Billiton. What he didn’t know was how his experience would contribute to his perspective on his engineering studies.
“Brock Wagner [’87, St. Arnold’s co-founder with Kevin Bartol ’81] gave me a one-on-one meeting and we talked about everything,” he said. “He had been a mechanical engineering major, too, before he switched to economics, so we talked about classes and about how he decided to found this company, and what made him take that leap into being an entrepreneur.”
For Devine, that kind of face time is one of the things that makes an externship an invaluable experience. Following his sit-down with Wagner, he got a tour of the facility — even going behind-the-scenes to where the brewery packages its beers and sends them out for distribution — and sat in on a marketing meeting.
“The tour was probably the most fun,” he said. “But in the marketing meeting, they were meeting with an architect about things they have in the works. They were also talking about new products and it was cool to see the creation process, what goes into getting their name out there.”
Devine, a junior mechanical engineering major, is hoping to work in the private sector in aerospace or oil and gas once he graduates and the externship opportunities he’s had at Rice have shown him how companies work. At St. Arnold, he was impressed to see how a fellow Rice Owl built a company from the ground up. At Cactus Wellhead, a multi-national oil and gas corporation, he did the externship at the beginning of the downturn in the energy sector.
“I got to shadow the CEO and I listened to him as he gathered up all these workers in the Port Arthur [Texas] facility and talked to them about the future of their jobs,” he said. “That was just eye-opening, in terms of having that kind of access, and watching him speak with empathy and realizing that a CEO has to balance the needs of business and people.”
He recommends that any student thinking about an externship experience “just do it.”
“You get to learn about real issues, in real situations,” he said. “And Michelle Passo, at the Center for Career Development, works really hard to match you up with the right experience. She’s excellent. Even if you find out that you’re placed somewhere you never thought about, you will learn something.”