Q and A with Cornell Engineering alum Bill Van Sweringen

Bill talking with student

The Engineering Management Program hosted a Lunch and Learn on October 4th with Cornell Engineering alum Bill Van Sweringen, Digital Strategy Advisor at ExxonMobil. Bill reflected on his experience as a project manager, shared career advice, and presented a series of case studies from his projects around the globe.

How did your educational background prepare you for your current role? 

  • Engineering courses - taught me the first principles of science and how to systematically solve problems. 
  • Social science courses (psychology and sociology) – taught me critical thinking and how to question if underlying factors were considered fully or properly.
  • Dormitory and fraternity living – taught me the importance of friends and deep relationships and how to get along with others. 

What trends do you foresee in your field? 

  • Technology and Innovation will force continuous learning for Cornell graduates and others. 
  • Sustainability and Environmental impacts will cause existing industry practices to change and will also create new projects to mitigate those impacts. 
  • If the above two items are not addressed, societal turmoil will result from displaced workers and from the increasing spread between those who have and those who have not. 

What advice/suggestions do you have for someone who wants to gain experience in your field? 

  • Seek summer internships with companies which develop challenging intern programs to teach interns valuable business skills and the companies use to evaluate interns for permanent hire. 
  • Simply subscribe to publications in your field to learn issues, viewpoints, trends, and solutions (on-line or hard copy). 
  • Attend conference or talk about your field. When you know little, you can learn a lot in short period of time. 
  • Ask family or friends of family for contacts in your field, and have lunch or phone call with them. Don’t be shy, people love to mentor or share their knowledge from experience with younger people when there is no obligation.