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Meet the New Director of Engineering Career Development

Erik J. Friedman joined McCormick in September

Erik J. Friedman is new to Northwestern Engineering, but he needed no introduction to the person he replaced.

Friedman, who joined the McCormick School of Engineering in September as assistant dean and senior director of the Engineering Career Development (ECD) office, was hired by Helen Oloroso at Illinois Tech in 1995 and worked for her until 2001. The opportunity to replace a former mentor, a who stepped down earlier this year, appealed to Friedman, who had spent the previous seven years as associate dean of career development and industry relations at Columbia College Chicago following a 15-year run at DePaul University. 

Erik J. Friedman

“It’s like coming full circle in a way, because when this job came up and I saw the listing I thought ‘This is Helen's job,’” Friedman said. “Then Helen tells me she's stepping down and I thought, ‘You've been in that job for 22 years. There must be something great about this place if you're willing to stay for 22 years. I have to check this out.’ So, I did check it out, and it's a wonderful opportunity for me to see the excellent work that she's done over the years and how I can contribute to take this forward. It’s an honor and a privilege.”

During a Q&A, Friedman shared his experience, his excitement for to work with Northwestern students, and how alumni can contribute to the professional success of current students.

What’s it like to begin your role while McCormick welcomes a new dean?
It’s great to be starting alongside Dean Christopher Schuh because it allows me to grow with his vision as we go forward. That’s an exciting place to be.

What are your early impressions of Northwestern and McCormick?
It's great to be at Northwestern. I'm really enjoying conversations with everyone that I've had an opportunity to meet so far. I am excited to be at McCormick because it gives me an opportunity to work closely with the faculty, the students, and my own team here.

These students are amazing. I really love their enthusiasm and drive about careers since that’s what we focus on here in ECD. At events and other initiatives that ECD has offered, it’s great to see students showing up in droves. These students want to connect with alumni and employers, and participate in everything we're planning and doing. That is exciting. When you have student engagement, there are so many new and exciting things you can do. That’s fun for me.

How will you use your experience to help students?
Working in career services is about trying to build high-quality programs that serve both the needs of the students and the needs of the faculty and employers who are hiring the students. I am eager to share my knowledge of how to build the team, how to build programs to help engage students about their careers, and how to measure our metrics to make sure we’re providing the best services we can to our students. 

What traits do successful career development offices share?
The number one thing is a passion for helping students. Folks who get into this type of work do it because they're naturally drawn to it. They are people who want to help students succeed. We're about career education — teaching students the things they need to know throughout their career to be successful. One of the rewards we get in our profession is helping a student develop and then watching them blossom, become amazing, and contribute to society. That’s why we do what we do. 

How can students get the most out of ECD?
I would say registering on McCormickConnect, connecting with their career adviser and attending ECD events. These are the things students need to do to utilize our services. It's important for students to show up when we bring employers or special guests to campus, so the students can take full advantage of these resources and connections, and also so these guests will come back again to help future students.

How can alumni help?
Alumni are one of our greatest assets. This is an area that we really want to lean into because alumni are the ones doing the actual work that our students want to do. Connecting with our alumni is one of the most important things that students can do to prepare for their careers.  Fostering relationships between our alumni and our students is a huge part of our work because it takes a whole community to educate. We want to engage our alumni as speakers, mentors, and employers and connect students to hands-on experiences that help enrich their Northwestern education and set them up for future success.

How do you envision the engineering career marketplace evolving in the years ahead?
Skills in problem-solving, creativity, and communication combined with excellent technical abilities will be needed. So, getting hands-on experience to develop these skills as part of your engineering education is critically important. Experience before graduation in an internship/co-op or research lab will also be more important than ever.

What makes Northwestern Engineering students well-suited for today’s professional environment?
I believe the combination of strong academic programs, outstanding faculty, opportunities for hands-on experiences, and the drive to impact the world makes Northwestern engineering students able to succeed in today's competitive marketplace. I am absolutely thrilled to work with and support Northwestern Engineering students as they pursue their future career goals.