Erika Torkildsen ’21 is nothing short of a trailblazer. While pursuing her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, Erika has taken a variety of leadership roles on campus, with groups such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. She’s served as an advocate for women in STEM both on and off campus, and after completing a series of internships, has landed her first full-time offer as a systems engineer at Raytheon! Today, Erika joins us to discuss her career development, her favorite O’Brien Center events, and what’s next in her professional life.
DAN ROUSSEL: Hi Erika! Thanks for joining us today, and congratulations on your full-time offer from Raytheon! Can you take us through the hiring process? How did you find Raytheon, and how did it progress from there?
ERIKA TORKILDSEN: Sure! Over the summer, I participated in the REBLS Leadership Academy, a career development accelerator led by faculty and professionals at Harvard and UMass Amherst. One of the guest speakers, Rachel McCaffrey, is the Executive Director of Women In Defense. A week into the fall semester, she reached out to me and invited me to register for a virtual WID conference. I attended, and I submitted my resume to a portal where employers would be able to contact me. About a week later, a recruiter at Raytheon Technologies reached out and she set up a phone interview. At the same time, Merrimack had its annual Fall Internship & Career Fair; I got to meet with another university recruiter from the company while I was waiting to hear back about my interview. I then had an interview with a senior systems engineer over Zoom shortly after, and I was offered the position a few days later. I gladly accepted, and I’m very excited to begin this new chapter!
That’s amazing! And so inspiring. Why did you want to work at Raytheon? What about the company aligns with your interests and makes it a good fit?
Raytheon is deeply invested in diversity, and expanding opportunities for employees to take on leadership roles within the company. As I went about my job and internship search, I looked specifically for companies that aligned with my values, and my desire to grow within my chosen field. I’m planning on getting my master’s degree within the next few years — my position at Raytheon will help me decide which specialization I’d like to pursue.
Sounds like you found the perfect fit with Raytheon. Not to mention, you have a great plan for the next few years. Speaking of plans, has Covid-19 disrupted your career development plans?
I was looking forward to working at Dassault Systèmes earlier this year as a Solidworks Quality Assurance Intern. After it got canceled, I figured it would be tough to find something else for the summer that would provide me with industry experience and networking opportunities at the last minute, and especially due to the pandemic! Therefore, I had to step out of my comfort zone and do as much research as I could. It paid off! In June, I took a data science course and joined the operations team for the nonprofit Reinvented Inc. as an advocate for women in STEM. In July, I began an internship with a startup company, Klondike Robotics after speaking with a connection I met earlier this year. I also participated in a medical device development boot camp. Even in the midst of a pandemic, the MassCEC internship program is still open and it helped me find my current internship with nanotechnology startup, SiTration. Although, my favorite experience of the summer was participating in the REBLS Leadership Academy! Next year, they’re planning to make it a national program — I highly recommend Merrimack students to apply. Finding all these opportunities was not easy, but I made it happen. If Covid-19 has taught me anything, it’s that you have to keep going and persevere because it will pay off in the end.
You’re so accomplished, and you haven’t even graduated yet — wow. It has definitely paid off for you! And Erika, when does your position at Raytheon start? As you prepare for that start date, what skills do you want to develop or brush up on?
My position starts upon graduation. I’ll be working as a systems engineer and using MATLAB for data analysis and algorithm development. I’ll potentially be programming in Python and C++. Next semester, I’ll be taking courses in Python, systems and controls, and data science to help me brush up on these skills and prepare myself for the job.
Also — my career advisor, Laura Thibodeau, has been there for me through it all. From mock interview prep, to resume and cover letter reviews, she encouraged me to focus on career development early on and develop my personal brand. I was a Get Hired Up Intern for the O’Brien Center last year, and I discovered my passion for connecting others to opportunities and giving back. I’ve taken advantage of LinkedIn Learning for Solidworks tutorials and it’s helped me immensely!
I’m so glad to hear the O’Brien Center helped you! From one intern to another — they’re the best. Have you attended any O’Brien Center events, like career fairs or professional development retreats? How did they help?
I’ve attended both the spring and fall career fairs in the past, and they’ve given me the chance to practice my elevator pitch and make those crucial introductions. Another favorite of mine is the annual “Ask an Employer: Engineering” event! It’s informal, and there’s always a big variety of companies represented.
Erika, as we wrap up, do you have any advice for fellow students?
Many opportunities come from connections. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and take that first step. Find a good mentor and allow them to guide you along your career journey. I owe it to my mentors for helping me get to where I am today.
Great advice. And you’ve gone so far! Thank you again for joining us for Working Warriors, and good luck as we enter finals season!
Are you ready to secure an internship or employment for the fall and beyond? The O’Brien Center for Career Development is here to help you! Visit Handshake today to search for open opportunities, meet with your career advisor, and more.