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An externship helped Mateen Poonawala ’07 (Karachi, Pakistan) narrow even further the career path he wants to pursue after graduation.

Poonawala spent a week learning about the steel manufacturing industry at Steel Dynamics, Inc. in Columbia City, Ind., with Richard Teets ’77, vice president of the firm and general manager of the structural and rail division.

Poonawala was among more than 200 Lafayette students who recently gained first-hand knowledge of the professional world. They served externships with alumni and other experienced professionals in business, the arts, education, healthcare, law, engineering, science, government, non-profits, and other fields. The students observed work practices, learned about careers they may consider entering after college, and developed professional networking contacts.

Poonawala, a double major in mechanical engineering and mathematics-economics, split his time between two separate divisions in the manufacturing plant.

“I asked for an experience that gave me the best of both worlds,” he says. “I pretty much moved from the hardcore engineering stuff, from getting my hands dirty in the steel mill, to the financial side.”

While working with the metallurgists, he observed their work solving a problem linked to weak molds forming cracks when placed in contact with molten steel. Shadowing a firm accountant gave him a good idea of the business side of manufacturing.

Poonawala says a externship at a civil engineering firm in New Jersey helped him decide to switch majors from electrical and computer engineering to mechanical engineering.

“Since I had such a phenomenal experience my first year, I wanted to do it again to get a feel for what a manufacturing workplace was like and what the steel industry was like,” he says.

While his time at the steel plant did not convince him that he wants to pursue a career in the steel industry, Poonawala benefited greatly from the experience.

“One of the biggest decisions I made when I came back was that I definitely want to go into the manufacturing industry, so now I am looking more toward food processing or pharmaceutical production,” he says.

Teets says providing students a glimpse into a profession is one of the reasons he participates in the externship program.

“As a businessman, I have had the opportunity to hire a number of individuals in my career and I have seen some good candidates from schools that have co-op programs like Lafayette’s, where students go out and work in industry and get some exposure. I looked at the program and although it’s not a whole semester’s worth of work, I don’t know that you need to go through an entire semester to appreciate what the ‘real world’ looks like,” he says. “I figured even a week in a steel mill might either excite or extinguish someone’s personal desire to pursue a career in the field.”

Although a desire to work in the steel industry wasn’t sparked, Poonawala says it had nothing to do with Teets and the people he shadowed.

“Mr. Teets was great. As a general manager he was tied up with things, but we met every morning. The first day he gave me a tour of the entire plant and introduced me to the people I would be working with for the next few days — introduced me to the company and the industry itself,” he explains. “He informed me about the demand structure, both in the United States and internationally, so I got an idea of the scale of the operation.”

Poonawala says it was a bonus having a alumnus for a mentor.

“Lafayette alums are really out there to help you. The fact that they host externships shows that they’re willing to share their experience with you and how they got to the point in their careers where they are now,” he says.

As an EXCEL Scholar, Poonawala worked with Steven Nesbit, associate professor and head of mechanical engineering, to understand how athletes move and the forces that occur inside their bodies. Poonawala was honored with the William G. McLean Tau Beta Pi Prize, awarded annually to a sophomore engineering student based on academic performance, campus citizenship, and professional orientation.

He is the program chair for the student chapter of Minority Scientists and Engineers, public relations manager for the student chapter of American Society of Mechanical Engineers, an associate representative for Student Government, a board member of Cricket Club, co-president of Residence Hall Council, and will be an resident adviser next year. Poonawala serves as a physics and calculus tutor and is a former reporter for The Lafayette and former member of the editorial board for The Marquis.

Teets began serving as second vice president of the Association for Iron and Steel Technology when it formed last year. He launched Steel Dynamics in 1993 with two partners. His first responsibility was the engineering and construction of the company’s flat-rolling facility in Butler, Ind. The company is now a growing, prosperous mini-mill steel producer that operates three steel mills. It grew from the start-up of its first million in 1996 to annual sales of more than $1 billion by the end of 2003.

Previously, Teets was engineering manager and manager of Nucor Steel’s thin-slab CSP facility in Crawfordsville, Ind. He also worked for 11 years for LTV Steel in Pittsburgh.

A mechanical engineering graduate, Teets earned a master’s degree in business administration from Duquesne University.

“The steel industry is a tough, challenging, and ever-changing environment,” he says. “My education at Lafayette provided me with a solid foundation of technical knowledge and thinking skills.”

Categorized in: Academic News