Thursday, October 20, 2016

Engineering Students Shadow Professionals at Laitram and W.S. Nelson

It’s one thing to study engineering. It’s another thing to be an engineer.

That’s why twenty-two University of New Orleans engineering majors last week participated in half daylong job shadowing experiences at W.S. Nelson Engineering and Laitram L.L.C., both in the New Orleans area.

Alumni at both companies led students on intimate tours of their facilities and operations.

At Nelson, six students were paired one-on-one and two-on-one with professional mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, all of whom were UNO alumni. They learned about Nelson’s history and current projects, including designing gas compressor stations and doing work for the offshore oil and gas industry, mining industry as well as for municipalities.

At Laitram, 16 students teamed with mechanical and electrical engineers. They learned about the company’s roots, organizational structure and current innovation and took tours of the company’s Harahan manufacturing facilities.

Senior mechanical engineering major Justin Thibodeaux said he was already interested in going to work for Intralox, a Laitram company that manufactures modular plastic conveyor belts. But Thibodeaux said he was even more excited after seeing the operation in person. “We got insight into the company and we got to learn what they’re about—not just what’s on their website,” he said. “It was a great experience.”

The company has a long-standing partnership with UNO’s College of Engineering, said Laitram Human Resource Director Franck LaBiche, including offering year-round, paid internships to UNO students. So, participating in a job shadowing was a natural extension of that: “We are always seeking great talent,” he said.

Celyn Boykin, director of career services for UNO, collaborated with Pam Meyer, director of alumni affairs, to expand the job shadowing opportunities so that students have more opportunities to interact with UNO alumni at their places of employment. “We want to connect students with alumni,” Boykin said.

Partnering makes sense. Fifty-seven current Nelson employees hold a combined 61 degrees from UNO. Eight of the company’s 28 officers are UNO alumni. Five of them are department heads. Three serve on the university’s engineering advisory board. And one is a member of the UNO International Alumni Association Board.

Richie Melancon, assistant vice president and manager of mechanical and chemical engineering at Nelson, said the job shadowing experience was a great collaboration for the students as well as for the company.

“We tried to get them excited about their careers and show them some of the more fantastic projects we’re involved in,” Melancon said. “I think our engineers here enjoyed it as much as the students did.”

Melancon, himself a 1997 alumnus of UNO’s engineering program, said the university is a valuable asset to the company and city. UNO’s College of Engineering offers the only mechanical, electrical and civil engineering degrees in the New Orleans area, so it is important to be able to reach out to the next generation of engineers as early as possible.

This is the second year Boykin has overseen job shadowing programs through the Office of Career Services. The program aims to match students from all disciplines and colleges with their professional counterparts in the workforce.

For more information about job shadowing possibilities or other career-related opportunities, contact Boykin at (504) 280-6225 or

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