Irv Liimatta

Home: Pontiac, Michigan

Degrees earned from WPI:
BS ECE

Graduate school:
MBA – Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan

How and why did you choose to attend WPI?
I actually earned a full tuition scholarship through my participation in the FIRST robotics program.  I was planning to attend another university in the fall to study electrical engineering, but when I was awarded the WPI scholarship, I immediately turned my attention to Worcester.  I would say that I was most attracted to WPI’s project based curriculum, the Global Perspective Program and the quarter system. 

How did your experience at WPI prepare you for graduate school?
Without a doubt my experiences at WPI prepared me for graduate school.  I actually went back to school relatively quickly.  Business school students typically have an average of 5 years of experience.  I applied with less than 3.  I believe that my experiences at WPI (coursework and projects in Ireland (MQP) and Thailand (IQP)) gave me the confidence I needed to seek out challenging projects/assignments early in my career.  Those assignments in product development, corporate purchasing and supplier development, were short and had very specific deliverables, very similar to my coursework at WPI.  The results I delivered in those roles, in combination with the international project work, enhanced my application to UofM’s business school.  At Michigan, I found the same “project/team-based” approach to education.  The school operated in quarters, and required all students to complete a MQP-style consulting project during their second year.  It really felt like an extension of my WPI education.

Current employer: Intel Corporation

Job title: Project Manager / Supply Chain

Did your studies at WPI helped prepare you for the work you are doing.
I work in an industry related to my ECE degree, but I no longer engage in any programming or circuit design.  My degree does help me better understand our manufacturing processes and the technology we develop, but aside from a little supply chain technology research (RFID), I rarely dust off my text books.  

In the last 4 years, I’ve completed assignments in Logistics Strategy, Business Operations, Warehouse Operations, IT and Transportation Contracts & Negotiations.  I think the real value I took from my ECE studies came from the critical thinking skills I developed while working on projects with short durations in small diverse groups.  I’m probably biased, but if you can complete an ECE degree from WPI, you can manage any challenge you’ll encounter in the workforce. 

How did WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, prepare you for facing real-world challenges in the workplace or graduate school?
It’s a bit cliche, but you really don’t understand what you have learned in the classroom until you have to actually apply it in the real world.  U.S. universities crank out tens of thousands of smart engineers.  They have all demonstrated the ability to learn complex theories.  What separates a WPI graduate apart from others is the fact that we are encouraged and even forced to start using this body of knowledge before graduation.   Is there a better way to prepare a graduate for the real world than sending him/her off to a foreign country to work for a major corporation for three months on a complex technical project with two randomly selected partners?  I doubt it.

Additional information:
People will often say that you need to think of your career as a marathon.  While I agree with this concept, I think that the very beginning is an all out sprint.  Recent graduates need to focus on delivering quality results immediately.  You can’t spend much time “ramping up”.  This will put you in a better position to take on more significant assignments quicker and apply to the graduate schools sooner.  In my opinion, graduate school is not an option.  Over the next 30-35 years of my career, I fully expect the majority of engineers entering the workforce to have graduate degrees.  If you haven’t already planned or thought about graduate school, I think it makes sense for you to start today.

 
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