For the past 13 years, Sally Gerrish has been organizing the Biotech Career Fair at the Georgia Institute of Technology. It’s one of the signature events for the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, coming as it does during a busy season of recruitment for companies.
For Gerrish, who is retiring in December, the last fair (Sept. 21 in the Molecular Sciences and Engineering Building) will certainly be the most memorable.
“Talk about going out with a bang,” says Gerrish, who’d initially planned the event for Sept. 14. It had to be pushed back a week because of the unwelcome intrusion of Hurricane Irma, which meant a quick reorganization as industry representatives had to change schedules at the last minute. What could have been disastrous wound up being an unqualified success, as most of the companies that committed still participated, and 438 students and alumni attended.
“This was definitely one for the books,” says Gerrish, manager of student, alumni and industrial relations for the Coulter Department. “Everyone – students, faculty, staff, the participating companies – rose to the occasion. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Biotech Career Fair, like most of the other departmental career fairs on campus, had to be nimble as the hurricane aimed its fierce rain and winds at Atlanta. These events were all planned around Georgia Tech’s All Majors Career Fair, which happens every fall semester, typically drawing more than 400 companies and 5,000 students. That one, planned for Sept. 11-12, was moved to the 18th and 19th.
Of the 20 companies that committed to the Biotech Career Fair, 16 showed up for the event on Sept. 21st. Two actually came on the 14th and set up tables in the lobby of the Whitaker Building (home of the Coulter Department). Considering all of the travel arrangements company representatives had to make or change, Gerrish says, “I consider that a great success. Real life happens, and everyone responded. Space was still available and everything went off without a hitch.”
The turnout was just slightly less than last year’s record-high, and faculty responded to the rescheduling challenge by working tests and assignments around the fair.
“They did a fantastic job of working with students, because they know how important this is for them to get out there and speak to prospective employers,” Gerrish says. “This is a great experience for students – not the end all, do all, but it is the beginning of the recruitment season, and I was so pleased with the faculty support.”
Industry feedback, Gerrish says, followed along similar lines to previous years. The skills that students gain through the Coulter Department and its lauded curriculum, which focuses on problem-based learning, always come across at these events.
“Companies want people with good communication and problem-solving skills, which our BME curriculum does so well,” Gerrish says. “Our students know how to work in a team environment, which is important to a large segment of industry.”
Georgia Tech has become a top recruiting stop for a wide range of companies, and particularly companies in the biomedical space, because of the Coulter Department’s emphasis on a team approach to problem solving.
“Our students are able to present a problem in an articulate way, and communicate resolutions,” Gerrish says. “In our classes, we don’t give away the answers. We provide direction, and the students find the solutions. If they run into a brick wall, they find another way. These are creative, innovative thinkers who aren’t afraid of confronting difficult challenges. The one thing that I keep hearing from our industry partners over and over again is, they love BME students because they are fearless.”
Gerrish led a team of about 30 student volunteers to organize, set up, and break down the Biotech Career Fair, an event that launched in 2005. She began her career at Indiana University in 1983 and came to Georgia Tech in 1999, joining the staff at the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
“I’ve been working with students for several decades, and I feel lucky to have been in a career where I love getting up to go to work every day,” she says. “One of the things that stands out most about this year’s fair is, we had so many alums come back to Georgia Tech, this time as industry representatives, enjoying their careers. That was the icing on the cake for me. That’s what makes you feel like you’ve done something that was a success.”
BIOTECH CAREER FAIR
Bard Medical Division
BW-Barry Wehmiller Design Group
Procter & Gamble
Varian Medical Systems
KBI Biopharma, Inc.
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation