Aerospace engineering students fly high with unique internship
July 06, 2012
The timing could not have been better. John Montesano had just graduated from Ryerson’s Aerospace Engineering program and was preparing for a master’s in Mechanical Engineering in the fall. He needed to find a job for the summer, but it was 2003 and Toronto’s economy was heading into its third straight year of decline. Montesano was worried. He had never had a job in his field and he was looking for whatever he could get to pay for his tuition.
At that same time, Zouheir Fawaz – one of Montesano’s professors – and Hany Moustapha of Pratt & Whitney Canada were preparing to pilot a program that would further enhance the university’s connection to industry by bringing together senior players in Canada’s aerospace industry and Ryerson’s aerospace engineering students. The goal was twofold: to help industry solve specific problems and to immerse students in a real work environment.
Montesano was one of the first six students to take part in the pilot, which not only gave him a paid position but one with relevant experience he could include on a resumé. “My task was to analyze performance data from existing aircraft engines and make correlations to see if I could come up with recommendations to optimize the preliminary design phase of all future engines,” says Montesano. “It was exciting and I felt like I was making a difference for the company.”
The Ryerson Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation (RIADI) program is the first project-based internship of its kind in the province. In the past nine years some 215 students have worked on 300 projects for such leading companies as Pratt & Whitney, Bombardier, Goodrich, Magellan, Safran Electronics and Messier-Dowty. This year, about 180 students applied for the 2012 May-to- August term and about 35 got the nod.
Jeff Xi, director of RIADI, says the program speaks directly to Ryerson’s philosophy of preparing students to hit the ground running when they graduate. Unlike a co-op placement, where students work as junior engineers doing whatever needs to get done on a given day, students in the RIADI program have a specific, predetermined project they must complete over four months or 600hours says Xi.
“We run about 35 projects a year and they typically fall into one of two categories: practical problem solving and long-term analytical projects.” In each case, an industrial supervisor works with the student who becomes part of the company’s team. Because RIADI’s employer partners are original equipment manufacturers and tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers, students have the opportunity to be exposed to the whole supply chain.
Employers gain because they are exposed to up-and-coming talent, and those students often go on to full-time employment with the same company once they graduate. That’s certainly been the case at Bombardier, which has 16 projects running this year across the business.
“It is a value-add for us because we use the solutions. We are very much counting on output,” says Jonathan Hack, manager of strategic technology, engineering and university and government relations at Bombardier Aerospace. “For example, we had a student working on the wing assembly for the Q400 aircraft, which we export all over the world. He looked at the production process with a focus on cycle time reduction.
We’ve used his recommendations to make the process more efficient.” The program has also provided an unexpected benefit, says Hack. “It’s an opportunity for our people to share their passion and knowledge of aircraft and avionics and transfer what they know to the next generation of engineering talent.
It’s a win-win on all fronts.” It was certainly a win for Montesano who has come full circle. He has returned to Ryerson to earn his PhD and his research project is for Pratt & Whitney. His advice to other students interested in RIADI: “Do it. It’s a great experience that will open doors and allow you to see that what you’re learning is applicable in the real world.”
Mary Teresa Bitti is a writer based in Oakville, Ont.