Written by Hayley Hanway
Between Michigan football games, seeing shows at the Mendelssohn theatre, and enjoying a “Cult” Archaeology class about Bigfoot and other urban legends, Shirin Mangold was trying to decide if she really wanted to be an engineer. She’d declared a major in Computer Engineering, but the traditional engineering curriculum was challenging, and she struggled to find her voice in classes.
Then she heard about the Engineering Cooperative (Co-op) Education Program, where students can spend a semester or more working for an engineering company. Through this program, she spent the second semester of her junior year and subsequent summer working for a company called Northern Telecom, which was a leader in telecommunications at the time.
“It helped me imagine what my life might be like if I got this engineering degree and chose to work in software engineering as a profession,” she said. “It was enlightening and invigorating and extremely confidence boosting.”
Because Co-op placements are significantly longer than the average internship, participants get more time to work on complex projects and feel more integrated with the company culture. This can help guide people who are unsure about the path they want to pursue post-graduation.
“The experience also helped me understand what I needed to learn for a career in software engineering,” Mangold said. “When I came back to U-M for my senior year, I chose my classes very differently.”
Mangold’s Co-op experience in the corporate world inspired her to pursue a career in software engineering and helped her recognize that the problem-solving techniques she learned in her engineering classes were relevant to creating software products for technology manufacturers. What’s more, she found herself working for and with other women, which was far rarer in the academic environment.
“Michigan always did a wonderful job of being very supportive, but there were so few women in my program, that I’m sure it influenced my ability to raise my hand and speak up,” she said. “But getting to work in that corporate environment with other women helped prove that I can do this, I can be an engineer. It made me feel smart again.”
Mangold’s experience with the Co-op program was so positive she ended up going back for another appointment the following year. That, combined with her summer work experience, gave her a robust resume that landed her three job offers by her graduation in 1993, including one from Northern Telecom. She ultimately chose to work for IBM as a programmer, and then went on to earn an MBA from the University of Virginia. Today, she is a Senior Director at Deltek, a leading computer software development company.
“That combination of a Michigan engineering degree and an MBA is pretty powerful,” Mangold said, “but my passion has always been technology, so I wanted to work my way back into a corporate IT function.”
Mangold is also happily married with two children, one of whom is studying Computer Science and Engineering at Virginia Tech and the other of whom will be a freshman at the University of Michigan this fall.
“I told my son that I don’t know what he’s going to do, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but Michigan is a great place to figure it all out,” she said. “Michigan has such strong programs across the board that whatever you chose to study, you’re going to get a great education.”
Mangold is looking forward to helping her son move in and rediscovering the campus, for “there is nothing like walking across the Diag during fall with the leaves changing.”
Above all, she hopes he takes advantage of the diversity of experiences Michigan offers.
“You meet people from every walk of life, you meet people from other countries, you’re exposed to international students who don’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving so you invite them to your house, you get to explore so many things,” Mangold said. “I absolutely loved it.”