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“Wherever you are is O.K.”: McMaster Engineering alumni return to offer advice to studentsJanuary 28, 2020

Ninety McMaster Engineering alumni and 150 students gathered at last week’s Backpack to Briefcase networking night to share experiences, advice and mentorship.

Put yourself out there, seek out mentors and remember that the university experience stretches beyond just academics – those were some words of encouragement echoed at this year’s Backpack to Briefcase alumni networking night.

Hosted by the Faculty of Engineering, the annual event offers engineering students the opportunity to network and connect with alumni mentors. 

The alumni mentors work in a variety of engineering fields, representing diverse backgrounds and bring valuable insights from their days at McMaster and beyond.

Alvin Pilobello, a chemical engineering and bioengineering alumnus (‘09), took to the stage to share his experiences with networking, overcoming social anxiety and helping others succeed in their professional lives. 

“The biggest piece of advice that I wish I knew when I was an undergrad is that wherever you are is O.K.,” he said. You're here to learn those skills and the only way to learn is to do awkward things, is to jump into the things that seem really scary." 

Pilobello is the founder of Mindspace Impact and coaches tech entrepreneurs, infrastructure engineers and creative professionals on professional development, emotional intelligence and more.

“I still get nervous up on stage, but it's the fact that I still do it, is what really matters.” 

For Princess Samaka, a B. Tech. biotechnology alumna (‘07), the transformative moment in her Mac Eng journey was her co-op experience.

“It gave me insight on how I can set myself up to become a better person in my career. It helped me to aim higher,” said Samaka, who became motivated to pursue a master’s degree during her co-op.  

She currently works at Hoffman-La Roche as a data manager while completing a Master of Biotechnology at the University of Toronto. 

“Try to build as much as you can – technical skills, people skills, soft skills, being able to network and build relationships with people because you might have to reconnect with them in the future,” said Samaka. 

Sam Mander, a third-year mechanical engineering student, said connecting with alumni mentors has helped to ease the intimidation around finding a job after graduation.

“You forget the fact that everyone has been a student and gone through all these stages,” he said.  

“I'll take away that just putting yourself out there is always good. You never really know what to expect from going to an event until you go, and I'm glad I went to this one.” 

Minha Amira second-year engineering physics and iBioMed student, said connecting with Samaka at the event gave her new perspectives. 

She talked about how not all jobs need to be: 'If I'm an engineer, I need to do an engineering job.' Jobs that give you soft skills are really important and that can be your stepping stone to doing something that you really want to do," said Amir.

"Even if you're not looking for a job, if you don't think you're great at networking, I think that you can always just talk to people. Just the idea of meeting different people and hearing their perspectives and hearing about their journey, it sort of opens your mind up to the possibilities, which I don't think you'd get if you were just surrounded in your own group of friends. 

 For more upcoming events for students and alumni, check out our events page.