Connie Pielech, E’90
After attending a minority engineering summer camp at Northeastern University as a high school student, Connie Pielech, E’90, walked away with a clear vision of the career path she would pursue, and the university she would proudly call her alma mater.
“I was always an engineer at heart: solution-based, curious, and eager to fix things,” she says. “Northeastern University’s innovative co-op education program allowed me to develop the skill set needed to succeed in the engineering field of my choice.”
While students in traditional undergrad programs were busy declaring majors, Pielech was working alongside executives at worldwide pharmaceutical companies through Northeastern’s co-op program. She’s now a patent agent at Osha Liang, LLP, in Houston, Texas, specializing in chemical, oil field, and pharmaceutical industries, and credits her three co-op experiences between 1985 and 1990 as pivotal in helping her find her niche.
“I was able see first-hand which engineering positions were a better fit for me personally than others,” she explains. “The time I spent in admin offices, pilot plants, and labs was invaluable. I graduated from Northeastern University with a full-time position, and one that I knew through experience was the best fit for me.”
Those co-op programs—two in New Jersey and one in Boston—totaled roughly 20 months of experiential learning.
“I believe these educational programs not only allowed me to gauge what sort and type of full-time engineering job I wanted, but they provided me with the opportunity to interact with the people in these fields, learn the culture of the labs and pilot plants, and find mentors,” Pielech says.
At co-ops at Merck & Co., Schering Plough, and Aspen Technology, “I worked alongside CEOs, admins, and retiring engineers. I was able to communicate with colleagues at various levels and positions, and experience a broad range of jobs a chemical engineer would experience in their lifetime. I never felt like a summer intern. As a Northeastern co-op participant, I was truly integrated into each company as a member of the team.”
She cites this as a key benefit of real-world co-ops versus traditional summer internships. “The companies were invested in my development; they knew I was there for an extended period and not just part of large group of students there for summer.”
Now, with an international, full-service intellectual property law firm, Pielech has held patent agent positions with Baker & McKenzie, Jenkens & Gilchrist PC, and Haynes & Boone, and has worked as a processing engineer for ExxonMobil and Fluor Daniel. She is active in the local Houston alumni group and eagerly assists with recruiting for Northeastern.
Her advice for future co-op students is to remain open, curious, and inquisitive, and, when possible, to take advantage of international co-op opportunities. “I recommend staying focused on where the work is first, but international co-ops are beneficial in today’s climate as a way to remain competitive among others graduating in your field.”
With the strong foundation that she established at Northeastern, Pielech has succeeded in a competitive industry and admits with a touch of nostalgia and appreciation, “Through my co-op experiences and Northeastern University education, I was able to find what I was looking for.”