By Lawson Powers
It’s common for undergraduate students to find part-time jobs to help support the financial burden of school. It is far more uncommon, however, for students to find work that also provides professional experience in their field of study.
Josh Montag, a computer science undergraduate student at the University of Georgia has found just that through his involvement in the Virtual Experiences Lab (VEL). This grant-funded program directed by Kyle Johnsen in the College of Engineering allows students to be compensated for hands on research with technologies they may use in their careers.
“It was a data aggregation project that was basically to find out if solar (energy) is a viable power supply for Georgia,” said Montag of his most recent project in the VEL.
His team was contracted by Georgia Power to build a prototype with which data could be collected from customers. Georgia Power’s intentions are to use that data to determine whether the electric utility should invest more in solar energy in the state.
Montag explained, “Georgia is in a unique spot where, you know, it could go either way. Maybe it’s viable, maybe it’s not. So, our job was to collect data on home power usage and A/C and weather statistics.”
Georgia Power and other companies are able to contract work from the VEL directly, allowing students to work with big names and experiment with important technologies before they graduate.
This is the kind of practical experience many hiring managers look for, according to business and financial consultant and former C-level executive Tracy Williams.
“The reason I would like the research is ‘Okay, this is someone who knows how to dig for answers and they know how to be inquisitive and to find answers where answers are not obvious,’” said Williams of the weight such projects carry on a student’s resume. “And that’s an important skill to me because I need problem solvers in my business.”
Apart from the benefits the VEL add to a student’s resume, those who participate are paid an hourly wage, making them student employees of the university.
“The other benefit is, of course, that whatever they’ve offered him he can use to offset his expenses while in school,” Williams explained. “And then the longer-term benefit is to the extent that he didn’t have to borrow the money… and it ensures that he can hit the ground running when he graduates.”
Montag has accepted a position at Techport Thirteen, an information technologies company that partners with large businesses to solve management and business issues. His position, which he will begin after he graduates in December, is half-consulting and half-coding, which was similar to his VEL experience.
Montag said the VEL played a large part during his interviewing process with Techport Thirteen.
“They’d ask me about, ‘Have I done this and this and this’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, I’ve built real world applications that are online right now that I can show you.’ It’s just really good building experience and it helps me build a portfolio,” he said.
Lawson Powers is a journalism student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.