When Joshua Kittrell, Dylan Weiss, C.G. Cruz and Justin Crow started their final semester in Tarleton State University’s engineering technology program, they had two things on their mind. Graduating and getting a job.

Thanks to a number of corporate and small-business partnerships that give engineering technology seniors the opportunity to solve real-world work challenges, they did both.

Companies like L3 Technologies, Fibergrate, FMC Technologies, Appleton Electric and Genesys Aerosystems provide Tarleton engineering technology seniors with capstone projects that help improve the efficiency of their operations. Sometimes, they like the students’ work so much that they make them a job offer.

That’s what happened with Joshua, Dylan, C.G. and Justin.

Joshua, Dylan and C.G. work for L3, one of the top 10 defense contractors in the world. Headquartered in New York City, L3 employs some 38,000 people worldwide and provides communication and electronic systems and products used on military, homeland security and commercial platforms.

Before L3 made its job offers, Justin was tapped by SSC Services for Education—a Tarleton facilities contractor—to help construct the university’s new Engineering Building, scheduled for completion in 2019.

Joshua, Dylan, C.G. and Justin designed a two-phase facility layout to accommodate new equipment at L3 and created an installation schedule to limit down time. It wasn’t easy.

The team put in 400 hours of research—including three trips to the company’s Greenville, Texas, location—before presenting their proposal to L3. In addition to a detailed schematic showing best placement for two new, massive cutting tools, their plan outlined utility infrastructure, provided a detailed cost analysis and highlighted safety considerations.

“When it was all said and done, we got a workable plan, and the students got an opportunity to put their skills and knowledge to work outside the classroom,” said John Skaggs, manager of L3’s transition engineering group in Greenville. “We were so impressed with their work that we offered them a job.”

According to Dr. Billy Gray, head of Tarleton’s Engineering Technology Department, landing a job while completing a capstone project happens a lot.

In fact, L3 started hiring Tarleton engineering technology graduates in 2010 after two students wowed the company with a plan that streamlined aircraft flight-line maintenance operations.

“To succeed in today’s competitive global market, engineering technology graduates must bring value to their employer on day one,” Gray explained. “Applied-learning opportunities make sure they do, complementing their academic coursework and challenging them to use what they’ve learned.”

Tarleton senior engineering technology students, divided into groups of three or four, work closely with corporate and small-business partners to research their project, gather data, present proposed solutions to company officials and follow up with progress reports. Sometimes, they carryout or oversee completion of the work.

Grades are based on project management as well as client satisfaction. There are peer reviews and self-evaluations.

For most participants, the hands-on projects provide more than the chance to tryout classroom knowledge.

“I learned to listen, to communicate and to engage others on a professional level,” Justin said of his L3 experience. “I learned to dress for success, and I developed the confidence to share thoughts and ideas with company leaders.”

In concert with real-world learning opportunities, Tarleton’s engineering technology students get help with resumes and interview skills, and understand salary expectations before beginning their job search.

“Applied learning connects Tarleton to the larger world,” said Dr. George Mollick, an assistant engineering technology professor at Tarleton and faculty mentor for the latest L3 project. “Traditional classroom knowledge is not enough. It must be applied to true-to-work challenges to ensure the future success of Tarleton graduates. Thanks to partnerships with industry leaders like L3, we’re able to make those challenges available and graduate well-rounded, innovative engineering technologists ready for work.”

Between 70 and 80 students complete Tarleton’s undergraduate engineering technology program annually.

Most have jobs before the end of their senior year.