Undergraduate Externship Program


The Extern Program typically consists of a two to three-day visit with an industrial firm during the winter break. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors in either the engineering mechanics or mechanical engineering curricula are invited to participate.

The process starts by inviting companies to participate in the extern program. Details on the company host, location, types of extern projects, number of possible externs, company information, and any reimbursement possibilities is entered on the Extern Program web tool.

Late October an invitation is sent to the students allowing them to sign up online and participate in the Extern Program. There is a cut-off date for sign-ups in mid November. Students must upload a copy of their resume which will be sent to the host company at which they choose to spend their Externship during the sign-up process. Until the lottery begins, the student can review the opportunities and indicate any that they cannot fulfill for reasons of travel, timing, or location. Once the lottery begins, participating students receive emails which give them the ability to accept or decline an externship opportunity that was drawn for them. They have 24 hours to respond with a decision and can hold an opportunity for an additional 48 hours if they need more time to decide. The lottery continues until all positions are filled or the first Monday after Thanksgiving, whichever comes first. Once a student chooses an extern opportunity, the computer system sends the student's resume to the host of the matched company and the student is given the company contact to set up the visit.

For more information regarding the Extern Program please contact the MechSE Undergraduate Programs Office at 217-333-0366.

Type of Visit

  • A two or three-day format is highly recommended.
  • The visit often starts with a short orientation and tour of the facility.
  • The student is assigned to an engineer (often a University of Illinois ME or TAM graduate) who acquaints the student with their project. It also works well to have the student rotate among several engineers during the visit to get a much broader overview of the company.
  • If possible, the student might be given a small, short term project to complete.


In the past, some companies have helped with travel, lodging, and/or meal expenses, and some have even provided a modest stipend upon completion of the extern visit. Travel is perhaps the most difficult for the majority of students to arrange. Reimbursements could be in the following forms: hotel reimbursement or direct billing, meals, travel expenses (car rental, gasoline, auto mileage reimbursement, air line tickets), stipend, and/or salary. Some companies may not provide reimbursement but take the student to lunch while there, have the student stay with an employee while they are visiting so there is no lodging expense. They are many ways to get around the expense of the visit and some have been very creative.

Host companies

Host companies that have participated in the past include the following:

  • Advanced Mechanical Systems
  • BP Naperville Complex
  • Cabot Microelectronics Corporation
  • Caterpillar, Inc.
  • Continental Automotive Systems
  • Deere and Company
  • Exxon Mobil Corp.
  • Ford Motor Co.
  • Grumman Butkus Associates
  • Henneman, Raufeisen, & Associates, Inc.
  • Innoventor Engineering, Inc.
  • Lucent Technologies, Inc.
  • Packer Engineering
  • Rosenthal Manufacturing, Inc.
  • S&C Electric Co.
  • Sargent and Lundy, LLC

Participant Comments

After the visits, the participating students and companies are asked to provide feedback. Comments from previous years from both host companies and students include:

Host Comments

  • "This was a great opportunity for us to learn more about the student from MechSE, and for him to get a better idea of what we do day to day."
  • "This was a very positive experience for our company project engineers and hopefully for the MechSE student. It not only gave the student the opportunity to experience a busy consulting engineering office on a typical day but also see how the mechanical engineering curriculum is applied in the real world."
  • "The student shadowed two engineers in our facility over the course of five days. He was very punctual and interested in the work. He thanked us numerous times for the opportunity and our engineers were impressed with his enthusiasm and abilities."
  • "I believe that this Extern visit was very successful."
  • "The experience was very positive for our company, both students showed professionalism and enthusiasm during their visit."
  • "The student was very inquisitive and asked many questions and it was a very open discussion."

Student Comments

  • "I would definitely recommend this program because it is extremely helpful in developing a sense of working in a real-world engineering environment."
  • "My host company did an incredible job of welcoming me in with open arms. The company not only has some of the brightest minds in the industry, they make the work environment much friendlier than expected from a company of their size. Not only were all of my questions answered, I was introduced to many business aspects of competing in the engineering marketplace. This company visit has given me great insight into the possibilities of furthering my education and the power of advanced degrees in the workforce. Overall, I would absolutely suggest all engineers experience the externship process."
  • "I would highly recommend this externship to others, even if they aren't into HVAC, because it also taught me about other important engineering skills like communication, coordination and flexibility."
  • "This is a great learning experience and you get to see what engineering is about in a short period of time."
  • "I would enthusiastically recommend this extern program, although only a week in duration, I gained a considerable amount of knowledge and insight from the experience."
  • "During my visit, I was able to see whole processes from start to finish, and it allowed me to gauge what my future will be like. The program allowed me to see what engineers actually do, not just what types of projects and problems they encounter on a day-to-day basis, but also what corporate life is like."
  • The extern program provides additional exposure to industries and workplaces that one might not seek, or have the opportunity to observe. By participating in an externship, even though it is for a short period of time, it is valuable in directing a job search, asking the right questions in an interview, and being better prepared for making the transition from student to employee."
  • "The Extern Program was my first chance at a look into the real world and it opened my eyes to many things. I came away with a new understanding of the working life of an engineer, and it made me put my goals in perspective to what I'm currently doing in school and what it really is that I should be expecting after I graduate. This opportunity really gave me a taste of reality along with a new motivation to continue with my major in hopes of landing a job similar to the one I was just able to observe. All in all, it was a very beneficial experience that I am thankful to have been a part of that helped shape my mindset [sic] as an engineering student, and I can't be thankful enough for the great hospitality that my host company showed me."
  • "I would definitely recommend this externship to a friend, and I already have. I got so many questions answered, and everyone could not have been more friendly to me. It was a very positive experience."