About a year ago, I decided to begin engaging in leadership activities that would both improve my skills and provide opportunities for others to flourish in the electronics field. Soon after, a friend asked if I would be interested in leading our IPC student chapter; I said yes in a heartbeat. Because of COVID shutdowns, our student organization had crumbled, and while I knew I could restore it, I had no clue where to begin. Our chapter advisor suggested I reach out to the IPC Education Foundation (IPCEF).
With that outreach, IPCEF soon became involved and excited about working with our chapter here at Valparaiso University. We discussed ways our students could grow through professional development, networking events, and technical skill advancements. We organized a kickoff meeting to determine interest and since then, our chapter has grown exponentially as students have learned the importance of engaging in the electronics industry.
Figure 1: Hannah Nelson at a soldering event.
As we began hosting campus events, I quickly realized just how important our organization was for students. We have a limited number of available courses, which means that information and processes of the electronics manufacturing industry are not easily accessible to us. Through our connection with IPCEF, our chapter has bridged the gap between the university curriculum and the expectations and skills we need to work in the industry. IPCEF offers several courses in its mini library related to technical subjects; these are incredibly valuable to electrical engineering students. Because of what I have learned in IPCEF’s video courses, I have been able to instruct my fellow students in chapter meetings about the electronic manufacturing process. Our students now know how to solder, design a PCB, and even create a wire harness because the Foundation provides the educational experience for students.
Taking the Next Step
I worked closely with IPCEF over several months. During that time, I was encouraged to apply for two opportunities: the student member scholarship and the Emerging Engineer position. Not long after applying, I was selected as a scholarship recipient and was invited to interview for the Emerging Engineer program. I was ecstatic. Not only was this an opportunity to continue pursuing my vocation through scholarship, but if accepted into the Emerging Engineer program, I could attend IPC APEX EXPO. I saw this as an opportunity to grow my technical skills and my professional network.
I approached my interview for the Emerging Engineer program with confidence regarding our IPC student chapter goals, which included expanding our membership and professional opportunities. As the interview concluded, they strongly recommended that I apply for the student director position on the IPC Board of Directors. I hesitated because I didn’t think I had the qualifications. Just as I was about to let the opportunity go, IPCEF reached out to me again and encouraged me to apply. I realized that I was selling myself short and limiting my potential to grow in leadership. So, I applied, and when the votes were counted, I was selected. Because the staff at IPCEF had faith in me, I knew I could provide the same level of faith and trust in my own leadership team and abilities.
Figure 2: Hannah Nelson with IPC President and CEO John Mitchell at IPC APEX EXPO 2022.
It has been an amazing year for me. In early January, I was accepted into the Emerging Engineer program and attended IPC APEX EXPO 2022, where I networked with professionals from around the world, sharing the important work of IPCEF. I frequently spoke about my passions and investment in this industry. I attended committee meetings, board dinners, and several professional development courses—all increasing my awareness of the electronics industry. I learned just how vast the industry is by exploring the different processes that go into electronics manufacturing and standards. There have been several individuals who devoted their time, teaching me about the industry and helping me grow professionally. Being surrounded by individuals who want me to thrive within the industry has helped me focus on developing a similar culture within my own student chapter.
Want to Help?
What IPCEF has done for me can and will happen for so many other students throughout the country. I know these students can follow their passions and create substantial change within our industry. They will fill the gap in the workforce with their skills, knowledge, and desire to build the industry. I know they will flourish in projects, leadership, course work, and their future careers. When I first started college, I was one of just two female freshmen pursing a degree in electrical engineering. At first, I felt like an outsider, but once I connected with IPCEF, I found my purpose. I plan to help other young women find that same passion. I’ve seen how a simple email to IPCEF started me on a path I never imagined as I have grown my passion for learning, teaching, and leading.
To students who are reading this, follow your passions, even if it seems out of the ordinary. Don’t be scared to share your ideas because they might make a difference in your organization or the people around you. I know this because it changed my life. If you already work in the industry and want to help our next generation, please reach out. Wendy Gaston is the IPCEF liaison between companies and student chapters. She can be reached at WendyGaston@ipc.org. Let’s all continue to move this work forward.
This column originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine.