New engineer ready to ‘prove’ himself at GM


From an early age, Philip Steele was a master of what he calls "reverse engineering."

"I didn't always know, per se, that I would be an engineer, but I was always interested in taking things apart — learning how they worked," admits Steele with a smile.

Fortunately for the Steele household, he was just as interested in learning how to put them back together. That curiosity was nurtured during his years at Akron's Garfield High School, where Steele participated in Project Lead the Way, a national pre-engineering program. And, as a student at The University of Akron, he gained the knowledge and skills to engineer even better products.

Philip Steele's Akron Experience, which included work on design teams and three cooperative education assignments, propelled him into his position as a an engine calibration specialist with GM.

Now, with a newly earned B.S. in Electrical Engineering, this member of the Spring Class of 2013 has begun his professional career with General Motors Corporation. Steele is working as an engine calibration specialist in powertrain engineering with the vehicle manufacturer in Milford, Mich., which also is the site of GM's proving ground. Once he has received advanced drivers' training, Steele will be among the engineers testing the limits of the vehicles on the roadways of the proving ground.

Gaining competitive edge

Steele is one of the 92 percent of UA's College of Engineering majors who either graduate with a job offer in hand, or are employed within six months of graduation. Like most of his classmates, he credits the college's cooperative education program with giving him a competitive edge in the job market.

UA's engineering co-op program, one of the first established in the United States, enables student engineers to integrate classroom learning with on-the-job experience. Beginning in the third year of their five-year program, students alternate semesters on campus with semesters of paid employment in their field of study, further developing the skills and knowledge employers demand.

For his three co-ops, Steele chose to work at the same company — Saint-Gobain Crystals in nearby Hiram. The division is part of the Paris-based Compagnie Saint-Gobain, a global manufacturer and distributor of construction products, glass containers and a variety of innovative materials. Founded in 1665, it is one of the oldest continually operating corporations in the world.

Hands-on experience

"There was no reason to go anywhere else," says Steele, who worked on a project to develop organic crystals that can detect different types of radiation. "There was enough there to keep me occupied and keep me interested. The relationship I had with the company was wonderful."

In fact, the co-op program was one of the key reasons he chose UA after attending another university in Ohio for a year.

"I stopped out for financial reasons and worked for two-and-a-half years to earn money for school," explains Steele. "I chose UA not just because it was local and I like the community, but because of the reputation of the engineering program. I have come to respect every single one of our faculty members."

For Steele, who always excelled in math and science, the return to college was a welcome one.

He focused on classes "to get back in the groove," and soon found his hard work rewarded with scholarships. Those funds, combined with his co-op earnings, meant he could concentrate all his energy on his studies and participation on some of the college's student design teams, which build vehicles for national and international competitions.

Prepared to succeed

"The student design teams are wonderful, because they give you practical experience," says Steele. "Classwork is nice, it teaches you how to think in some ways and it proves you can do a certain level of work in high-level theory, but it's not everything. You really need to know how to communicate, how to work practically with people and how to apply critical thinking skills. That’s what will set you apart and allow you to advance in your career.

"The University of Akron is absolutely integral into my securing the position I have with GM," notes Steele. "The co-op program is not mandatory, but 95 percent of us choose to do it because it absolutely helps you secure a full-time position. Co-op is huge. It gives you experience and opportunities. Arguably, if it was not for me being at Akron, I can’t say I would have the same opportunity."