Funded research project lands grad student a full-time job
Many College of Engineering students complete internships during their tenure at the college, hoping to gain work experience that will make them better equipped to find jobs in their fields.
But, sometimes the benefits are more direct. Take Anshuman Sharma, a materials science graduate student who worked under Materials Science and Engineering and Engineering Physics Associate Professor Dane Morgan.
Sharma leaped almost directly from intern to employee.
Morgan was working on a team with other faculty to help Wisconsin-based A.O. Smith Corporation, a major manufacturer of water heaters for homes, to create more advanced anodes for its water heater equipment. Sharma’s master’s research under Morgan included a modeling project on aluminum anodes and was precisely what A.O. Smith needed help with. So, starting in summer 2009, Sharma interned for six months at A.O. Smith and within a year and a half, he was a full-time employee at the company.
For his internship, Sharma (pictured at left with A.O. Smith prototype specialist Matthew Critchley) worked with company principal engineer Ray Knoeppel and vice president Bob Heideman, spending four months on spot welding and another two months experimenting with the same aluminum anode project he was modeling at the university. “I was most interested in figuring out the relation between modeling and real experimental results,” Sharma says. “I would go through some modeling at UW-Madison and then try to correlate the results of that with what we were seeing in the experiments at the A.O. Smith lab. This was the part that attracted my interest the most.”
The company not only provided Sharma the internship, it also helped him receive funding for his master’s research. Thanks to a grant from A.O. Smith and a matching grant from the university Innovation & Economic Development Research (IEDR) program, which supports research collaborations between UW-Madison researchers and Wisconsin businesses, Morgan’s lab could offer Sharma full support for his master’s degree. “Because the two programs existed, we could tie together a focused project with two years of funding,” Morgan says. “It was really a great fit for Anshuman.”
During Sharma’s internship, he became interested in working for the company in the long run. But there was one catch: He wanted to work in India, where he grew up and had family. “I was fully focused on A.O. Smith and was determined to get employment with them,” Sharma says. “Had I not got the job with them, I would have come back to India and searched for a job here.”
His determination paid off, and he initially was offered a part-time position. He’d drive to Milwaukee, where he worked 20 hours a week while completing his thesis in Madison. But within six months, he was a full-time employee at the company’s new India plant.
Now Sharma is a materials design engineer in the company’s Bangalore office. He helps choose materials for new products, and works with quality control and manufacturing to ensure staff are using the correct steel, plastics and other materials in their existing products. He’s also a liaison between the company’s design facilities in the United States and India.
Sharma says that though the work he’s now doing is different from his previous work, it’s exciting. A new plant is fertile ground for someone with engineering expertise. “There are millions of things to work on and improve,” he says. “This is the time to establish things and mold the plant’s workings in the best possible way—and that makes the work exciting.”