Foundations of the Future: Introducing Students to a Career in Electronics

ipcapexexpo Mar 05, 2021

In place of the annual STEM Event that the IPC Education Foundation hosts as part of the IPC APEX EXPO, the foundation held the Build Your Future Career Panel. In the last few years, the IPC Education Foundation has enjoyed hosting Career & Technical Education (CTE) students onsite at the IPC APEX EXPO for an entire day of exposure to the industry and hands-on learning. While we weren’t able to host students in person this year, we hosted a virtual event that introduced hundreds of students and has the potential to reach thousands more thanks to the digital recording.

With IPC shifting the entire expo to a virtual event, the IPC Education Foundation had to the same. Many of us have become accustomed to Zoom meetings and various other forms of virtual events, so fortunately we had the technology in place to host an event online. One small positive in the pandemic over the past 12 months is that a lot of people who were not familiar with the technology have embraced the changes. Shortly after IPC announced it was moving to an entirely virtual APEX EXPO, the IPC Education Foundation decided to postpone the STEM Event until the Fall or outright cancel the 2021 event. Instead, as we’ve become familiar with hosting webinars as part of the IPCEF Webinar Series, we decided to put together a virtual event that would engage both high school and college students pursuing careers in electronics.

Figure 1: The announcement for the STEM event.

Figures 2-3: Screenshots from a presentation by Steve Pudles.


The Build Your Future Career Panel featured speakers and panelists for a 90-minute Zoom webinar. It kicked off with presentations from two IPC Hall of Fame Award Winners: an “Electronics Industry Overview” by Steve Pudles, president and CEO of Zentech Manufacturing, and “The Future of the Industry” by David Hillman, Engineering Fellow at Collins Aerospace. Pudles shared information about the vastness of the electronics industry (Figure 2), specifically noting how many students assume that electronics simply falls under the wing of consumer-facing electronics companies. Pudles provided more context by noting “invisible” electronics and also discussed higher-class electronics used in industries such as transportation and healthcare. He then launched into some detail about how “electronics and electronic products are really built by three types of companies: OEMs, ODMs, and EMS companies,” and wrapping up by providing an excellent overview of titles and career paths that students can pursue.

Hillman picked up right where Pudles left off by propelling into the future of the industry. Speaking primarily to high school students in the webinar, Hillman set out to answer the question, “So what are you considering for a career?” His message centered around principles and keys to having successful careers. Hillman encouraged the students to be “passionate, not be afraid of hard work, and take calculated risks” to help further their careers and the industry. In around 30 minutes, the students and educators on the call had a much better understand of hat exactly the electronics industry is and does, and were prepared for a deeper dive into the day-to-day of people in the industry.

After providing a brief overview, John Mitchell, IPC president and CEO, moderated a career panel of seven industry leaders and engineers. The panelists shared their career journeys and how they entered the industry. For example, Christina Trussell told her unique story of entering the U.S. Navy after high school and how her experience as an avionics technician ultimately led to her pursuing a technical degree from Embry-Riddle University and then her role at Blue Origin. Most students know that if they pursue a degree in engineering, they will have a clear path to being an engineer in some fashion. Joe O’Neil, CEO of Green Circuits, shared his story of starting as an intern at Douglas Aircraft, a career shift to investment banking, and then moving back to an industry that allowed him to learn and pursue his engineering interests. By providing several examples of career paths with the guidance of the panelists, the students were able to see some paths to follow.

Figure 4: Students were challenged to see their future selves in the industry.

After the initial stories, the students and instructors were able to ask their questions directly to the panel. Students and instructors asked questions on a healthy variety of topics, ranging from internships, finding project experience, skills development, and a fun roundtable about one thing that surprised each of them about their first internship or job. The attendees had an abundance of questions and were excited to have direct interaction with people in roles in which they could see their future selves.

Figure 5: Panelists in a lively and informative session for high school students at the STEM event.

To inform the attendees how to stay engaged and get plugged in with the electronics industry, IPC and the IPC Education Foundation, I provided an overview of the IPC Education Foundation Programs. Notably, I discussed how the foundation provides exposure through the STEM Event and Technical Classroom Learning, and access through the IPC Student Chapter Program and Career Preparation. The foundation is currently revamping its digital education offering to high school CTE programs and community colleges, while also expanding on the offerings for the IPC Student Chapter members.

Figure 6: The IPC Student Chapter Program overview.

The foundation will continue to build on this event by engaging with attendees in future programs and by packaging the valuable content from the recording. While the IPC Education Foundation, its volunteers, and the constituents enjoy the excitement and experience of an in-person event, the first virtual component to the STEM Event was a success.

Aaron Birney is the IPC education program manager.


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