When your client is a major university, one way to “pay it forward” is to hire their graduates. For Cameron Griffith, this tenet has paid major dividends both personally and professionally.
Griffith, the Trane Technologies Inc. account executive for Florida State University, oversees the vendor/partner relationship for the university. Trane manufactures the air conditioning systems across the large FSU footprint—and might be ultimately responsible for keeping the campus cool.
Himself a Clemson University mechanical engineering alumnus, Griffith knows the value of a leg up into industry as a new graduate. As he got to know his university client, Griffith realized that “we’d never hired an FSU grad, and I wanted to change that.”
At the same time, Griffith was asked to be an industry partner in the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering’s 2020 (Virtual) Engineering Senior Design Day. By acting as both a client and a judge for the annual event, he got to know students and faculty at the college—and was duly impressed.
Designing for the Future
For the 2020 event, Trane sponsored an interdisciplinary engineering design project titled, “Energy Demand Reduction for FSU Center Utility Plant,” which called for students of electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering to collaborate on the project design, execution, and presentation.
Griffith served alongside Kyle Clark, FSU VP for Finance and Administration, and Jim Stevens, Executive Director for Campus Utilities and Maintenance, as the “client” component for the senior design project. In this role, he was able to gauge the students’ technical, business, and interpersonal skill sets.
“Being a Senior Design judge was a great experience,” Griffith recalls.
Ultimately, the test of a Senior Design project is its usefulness. To help reduce the energy demands of a large, distributed campus in sweltering Florida heat, the student team engineered a system that uses thermal energy storage to shift energy use from day to nighttime. The design calls for a 5-million gallon cold water tank that can be filled and emptied every day to cool the campus HVAC system. This allows the big cooling machines to run at night instead of during the day, saving a lot of money. Once the water is cooled, it is pumped to the various locations around campus, delivering cold water cooling power that otherwise would compete with the upper-90 degree outside temperature in summer.
Even with an estimated cost of $5 million, the university benefits from a projected $420,500 annual savings in electricity costs and a 10-year return on investment.
From a professional perspective, Griffith was impressed by the students’ acumen and project delivery. The senior design team not only solved the engineering problem, but they also proved the business case that the project makes sense and makes the university more sustainable and viable. FSU’s Clark and Stevens were so impressed they plan to incorporate the design into future physical plant upgrades as soon as the budget allows.
Finding the Right Engineer
For Griffith looking to hire FSU engineers, the Senior Design project gave him ample opportunity to evaluate potential employees. And in his business, people skills and communication are the keys to success.
Part of what impressed Griffith was not only the technical aspects of the Senior Design team’s solution but also the professionalism and quality of their presentation to the client group.
“You have to be able to communicate to business, financial and technical people,” he says. In an industry like Trane’s, “Business executives must understand your presentation and the key benefits of the project.”
Two of those Senior Design team members eventually did become Trane engineers. Edgardo Cordero, a mechanical engineer, and Steven Decker, industrial engineering graduate, were hired after graduation. Griffith also wanted to hire a third member, Mira Meyers, but she was already committed to another employer.
Cordero now a Junior Process Engineer at Trane, had reached out to Griffith during the Senior Design project for help with networking and job hunting. This professional mentorship is one of the big student benefits of the Senior Design process.
“I gave Edgardo some tips for his LinkedIn profile and wrote a letter of recommendation for him to work in a different area of the industry as a process engineer,” Griffith remembers. His help was a factor in Cordero getting the process engineering job at Trane, where he essentially streamlines the manufacturing process for the company’s HVAC equipment.
Steven Decker was a technical sales intern for Trane during his time at FAMU-FSU Engineering. He committed to a full-time position with the company in the early stages of the senior design project. He has been working post-grad as an account manager in the company’s South Florida Region, based out of the West Palm Beach office. Soon he will attend Trane’s highly esteemed five-month graduate training program for new sales engineers where he will receive industry-leading HVAC and Sales training.
“Engineers are typically smart people, but [in school,] you don’t think about building those people skills,” Griffith says. He believes it’s very important for engineering students to get out of their shell and learn how to communicate technical solutions to executives and business leaders. In his mind, this is key to being a successful engineer.
He’s happy to have found such quality and skills at one of his largest clients. The student engineers at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering have exceeded his expectations, in both classwork and professionalism.
“We love the diversity at the college,” Griffith says of the joint engineering institution. FAMU-FSU Engineering represents two great universities and he believes it includes all the opportunities to hire diverse engineers in terms of gender, ethnicity that that brings.
“These engineering students worked extremely well together as a team,” Griffith remembers. “You’re going to have to work in an environment that’s cross-functional, and I was impressed at how well these students did that.”
Trane was again a sponsor for Senior Design in 2021, with a focus on indoor air quality. Especially during the pandemic, the student engineers involved will have to find a way to effectively clean the conditioned air as we return to in-person business and learning.
Griffith looked forward to not only the innovations these students would design but getting to know them as professionals and people. He’s discovered that’s the best way to find quality young engineers.
After the semester ended, the company added its newest alumnus to the ranks: Andreu Santeiro, a mechanical engineering alumnus, Class of 2021. Santeiro works as a Data Analytics Engineer in Trane’s Miami office.
Trane is looking for more FAMU-FSU Engineering graduates. They are especially focused on hiring diverse engineers and female candidates in particular.