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UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN
WINTER 2007-08

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Engineering the Downhill Bike

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By Hannah Peterson

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Alumni Insights: Tips for Success

Where do you go when you’re not exactly sure where you want to end up?

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and have a hard time deciding which off-stream to take when it comes to education. Right out of high school, students are expected to dive into a fast-moving current that has the potential to take them places or wash them up on some unknown shore. It is a real wakeup call for some. But do not fear; there are many students who have been in the same situation in the past and have made it out alive.

Before you sink into the river of denial, take some time to learn some “career swimming lessons” from engineering alumni who have stayed afloat long enough to land their respective career positions in the work force. Taking their words of wisdom and putting them to good use could potentially make your college-to-career transition flow a lot smoother.

John Dunn 1970
John Dunn
COURTESY PHOTO

John Dunn could have been described as a very committed student back in his day. Although it has been 37 years since he walked the campus as an undergrad, Dunn, now retired, still maintains a close relationship with the faculty and current students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Dunn transferred to UNL his junior year of college. He had started off in Kearney not knowing what his definite career path would be. He said he had always considered teaching and coaching but never regretted switching schools and majoring in chemical engineering.

Joining organizations proved to be beneficial for Dunn as he met new people and got more involved with students who had similar goals and interests. In college, he was a member of the
American Institute of Chemical Engineering student chapter, which introduced him to other students that had similar career goals.

John was born in Iowa, but was like many UNL students who hold high self-esteem in being a proud Husker. Dunn said looking back, he has many fond memories of fall traditions, watching football games and walking across campus every day to classes like calculus and physics. Finding a parking spot was difficult back then as well.

When it came to studying, there weren’t any official groups like the Learning Community that is available to engineering students today. However, he and about half a dozen other students would meet on an informal basis to review together.

During his junior and senior year at the UNL, Dunn interned with Archer Daniels Midland Company, which sells soybeans. There, he was able to apply what he was learning in the classroom to a job. Today ADM has a premier position in the agricultural processing value chain. It is one of the world’s largest processors of soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa, and it is a leading manufacturer of biodiesel, ethanol, soybean oil and meal, corn sweeteners, flour and other value-added food and feed ingredients.

Although Dunn has been out of school for some time, he shares similar experiences with chemical engineering students today.

“Studying, tests and numbers stay the same over the years,” he said. What seems like the biggest difference between now and then, he said, is information technology and the way people interact through new communication standards.

Today, students don’t think twice about being able to e-mail their professors with questions from their dorm rooms, calling a friend on a cell phone to study or flipping on their wireless laptop to research school topics on the Internet.

Technology is constantly growing, but Dunn said he doesn’t feel disadvantaged compared
to today’s students. Although he grew up without e-mail, cell phones, pagers and PDAs, so did everyone else. He said he realized that technology is something an engineer must constantly adapt to and learn as new inventions are discovered.

Shortly after graduating, Dunn became a lead designer at a refinery where he was surprised to learn how many of the basic elements he learned in college applied to his work. John became director of human resources for ExxonMobil Products & Research Department in Paulsboro, N.J. There, he enjoyed being the supervisor of electrical and instrumental engineering as well as being a part of career development for research.

He continued his involvement at UNL and has served as secretary and president of the Chemical Engineering Advisory Board, was an active member of the UNL Alumni Association and is a member of AIChE. He also received the Outstanding Alumnus Award at the University of Nebraska’s Celebration of Excellence.

In Dunn’s first year of college, he thought about becoming a teacher. Ironically, he has found ways to combine his love for engineering with the desire to work with students. Being both a great public speaker and caring for students himself, Dunn takes the time to come back and consult undergraduates on how to be successful in his field so they are ready by the time they graduate. He tells the students to “stick with it.”

One of his main tips for engineering students is to get off to a fast start. Whether it be with school, an internship or work, it is much easier to start off well and keep a good standing rather than work up from the very bottom, he said.

“Engineering will open lots of doors,” Dunn said.

“Of course, GPA also helps to open doors,” he said. He encourages students to practice communication skills and to be able to express their talents and accomplishments in an interview. “As a senior, a student should utilize the Career Center, get on the Web and network through classmates,” he said.

Although he admits that engineering is very time consuming, he has enjoyed his career and advises students to decide early on where they want to put their time and effort.

Dunn is currently enjoying his retirement on the west coast of St. Petersburg, Fla., enjoying golf and the 362 days of sunshine a year in his leisure time.

Dunn and his wife, Nancy, donate scholarship and fellowship funds to support chemical engineering students today. They are members of the UNL Chancellor’s Club and the NU President’s Club, and Dunn also helped establish the Alumni Excellence Fund.

 

     

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