March 2021 – Spring Constants – ISA St. Louis Section

I have always seen Spring as a season of optimism and new beginnings. Flowers are blooming. Grass is turning green. Leaves return to the trees. Baseball season is right around the corner. All of these are constants of spring (whoa ... were you expecting a blog on ‘k’? Sorry to disappoint you, but F=-kx will not be referenced here). Who couldn’t feel upbeat this time of year? The worries and fears of March 2020 have turned to optimism as new cases go down and vaccine supply goes up. Positivity is everywhere (except for that negative coefficient … last reference, I swear).

There is another constant that I am reminded of every Spring – the job hunt for new grads. I, along with my fellow ISA Board Member – Andre’ Warren, attended the local Engineers’ Club Spring New Grad Job Fair to help promote the benefits of ISA to new grads. As a student or new grad, these job fairs can be intimidating as it creates some serious inner monologues and self-reflection – Did I look the part? Were they interested in me? Can I do it? How can I do it? Are they going to ask me about my grades? What if they tell me I need an A in Thermo? … and the list goes on and on and on.  Now, it is 2021 - combine all those worries and anxieties with the virtual world! Awkwardness abounds.

As I sat comfortably at my virtual work set up, used to the routine of webcams and virtual conversations, Andre’ and I welcomed future engineers, technicians, technical writers, and business leaders to our virtual booth. It was clear the students, although also having to conduct much of their learning in a virtual realm, still didn’t quite have the knack of virtual interactions as Andre’ and I come to find in our professional lives. Yet something about the whole experience felt familiar to me.

After the first conversation we had with a soon to be college graduate, I was transported back to conference and meetings rooms in Urbana and Champaign when I was in their shoes. Not sure if I had studied hard enough, mastered what I needed to know, or even looked the part of a professional. I remembered all the fears and anxieties of talking to people in industry who were already doing the jobs that I one day hoped to have a chance to do. The platform was different, but I felt a connection to our visitors and saw ways to communicate with them … for the most part. However, I did take note of a few unique and eye-opening interactions.

Turns out, even with me being transported to my college days in my mind, I am no longer in the Spring of my career. I am old(er) now. Somewhere in my Summer months to keep the seasonal theme going. I know this because I can remember a time before flat screen TVs. You see, this technology was a clear mile marker in the minds of one of our attendees. Andre’ and I explained the transformation of the Instrument Society of America into the International Society of Automation when we were met with an interjection – “oh, wow, like way back before flat screens?” Andre’ and I immediately looked at one another and knew the times, they were a-changin’.

If it wasn’t evident in the change of the technology around us, it was evident in the new language being used as one visitor described a “flex”. A what? Did the visitor mean “Flex”, the company, maybe the visitor was an intern there? Maybe the visitor meant something related to yoga or gymnastics? Or something related to our old friend ‘k’ the spring constant (found another way to sneak it in!)? As the conversation continued, we figured it out. Now, growing up I spent a lot of time in the Library as my grandmother was a librarian, so when I didn’t know a word I went and got a dictionary. Flex, being used as an intransitive verb, now has an official informal meaning according to Merriam-Webster as “to make an ostentatious display of something”. Apparently, this usage has become so commonplace that this is how the next generation is highlighting professional and educational achievements. Allow me to more formally reference Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman, or as you might know him, Bob Dylan – “the times they are a-changin’.”

After the meeting, I was telling these stories to my wife. My initial thought was she was going to get a laugh at how out of touch these kids are. Oh boy, was I wrong. One more time, from Bob Dylan, “don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” You see, she deals with college aged individuals in her career and is aware of the perspectives and new lingo that these students introduced me to last week. This was the new normal. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant in life.” This change in perspective and language was nothing but a reminder that I truly was in my Summer months now and served as a lesson that I needed to learn how to better connect with our next generation of STEM leaders and thinkers.

Once again we have another constant of Spring. These new grads become the leaders, thinkers, doers, creators, visionaries that enter the workforce en masse bringing with them new thoughts, perspectives, ideas, techniques, and even language into the workforce. How do we more seasoned individuals help these new ideas and skills blossom? How do we adapt our own skills to nurture our own further growth in our careers and disciplines?

If I had answers, I’d probably be a well published business author by now, but I don’t and I am not. I do have some reflections on my latest interactions – be respectful, be helpful, listen, and be aware that this generation, much like mine and yours and yours will all be a little bit different then the one you are accustomed. Try to remember what is was like during your first interactions in your career as your Spring began.  Lend a hand to this next generation and be aware that the true constant of Spring is that the times will always be changing.

See you real soon,

Cory N. Kniepp

ISA St. Louis Section, President

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