Why bring 23 university students to CONEXPO-CON/AGG? “To give them a real picture of what they could be doing,” says Andrew Schiller, an Engineering Instructor at Utah Tech University. And what were the students’ impressions? All were positive and one student summed it up by saying, “This is the coolest thing I’ve done in my whole time in engineering.” Granted, for a college student, that engineering experience encompassed several years, not several decades. But they were several years of discovery and exploration, the type of experience that usually occurs only in the early days of career development, and CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 was the coolest part of that.
“Too often the student thinks, ‘My career in engineering will be me, sitting in front of a computer, doing modeling.’ And for some, that’s enough,” says Schiller. “But for many others, it is not enough and walking the floor at CONEXPO-CON/AGG was the perfect way to expose them to real companies who are solving real problems with real engineering tactics.
“The truth is,” continued Schiller, “most engineering is hands-on; it is making things. Our program is known for its active, hands-on approach and we attract makers.” Students in the Utah Tech program are intrigued by engineering and intuitively perceive the intricacies and excitement of the field. Schiller uses the rock drill as an example. It is a seemingly simple, humble tool, the kind that gets thrown in the back of a truck at the end of the day without a thought. But in truth, it is a gem of engineering with each component the result of extensive research and design.
The standard rate for attendees would have made it prohibitive for college students to attend the show. Schiller contacted show organizers and was quickly rewarded with a deeply discounted student rate. “The organizers were great to work with. They saw the value of what we were doing and were eager to support our efforts.”
Students spent time in booths and displays, absorbing the overall feel of the show, but they also had lots of personal interaction. Several got connected with internship offers. In one booth a company vice president walked up, assessed the situation, gave his personal email to the students, and encouraged them to send their resumés directly to him. “For many of the students,” says Schiller, “this was likely the first time they got to see on a personal level what companies are doing in regards to engineering.”
Here are Schiller’s top three insights from the experience:
1. It was a unique opportunity for students to interact directly with companies that are doing things that those students may well be doing for the duration of their careers.
2. It deepened students’ appreciation for how much engineering effort goes into designing and making seemingly “ordinary” equipment. Engineering isn’t an isolated facet of a few dark corners of daily life. It is an active, integral, exciting part of all aspects of daily life.
3. It was an opportunity for students to make personal connections with engineers in the industry. “I get it,” says Schiller. “This is a trade show, not a job fair. But it was an opportunity that would be hard to match elsewhere.” And, of course, it was an opportunity for companies to make contact with some of the best and brightest—and most highly motivated—engineering students.
So was the experience worth repeating? “For CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2026, I want to rent a 50-passenger bus and bring twice as many students,” says Schiller. “I’m passionate about engineering and the excitement it offers. People spend their entire working lives immersed in the intricacies of how things operate, and that’s a great way to make a living. Bringing students to CONEXPO-CON/AGG gives them first-hand exposure to that truth.”
Andrew Schiller spent six years at Caterpillar working on starters and alternators and three years at GE before entering the academic space.