A last-minute decision to accompany a friend to a Florida Gulf Coast University career fair in 2018 proved Sofia Alaniz was in the right place at the right time.
“I thought it would be good practice for me to talk to different companies and see what I was interested in because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do,” explains Alaniz, a 2019 graduate in civil and environmental engineering.
A brief chat Alaniz had at the Waldrop Engineering booth, a company that recently merged with Atwell, caught the attention of Jackie Larocque. Larocque, a team leader and director of engineering at Atwell, needed to make sure she had Alaniz’s resume in hand.
“She literally came running after me,” Alaniz laughed. “She goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been looking for you! I don’t know if my colleague grabbed [a resume] from you, and I wanted one for myself.’ I gave her an extra resume, and she asked if I wanted an interview. So, I said sure.”
The spontaneous conversation, instant connection and chase across the room led Alaniz to an internship with the company in 2019 and a full-time job after graduation. It’s also a story they still laugh about in Atwell’s Bonita Springs office three years later.
“It’s nice to get that one-on-one time at career fairs, and you can tell pretty quickly if they’re going to fit. It’s just that personal connection,” Larocque said.
Larocque is also an FGCU alumna and graduated with her civil engineering degree in 2014. Over the years, she has helped recruit dozens of Eagles with engineering degrees to Atwell, a full-service consulting, engineering and construction services firm.
Twenty-five FGCU engineering graduates are employed at Atwell across the state. Fifteen of those former Eagles are working in the Southwest Florida office, with a current student starting an internship this month.
Larocque finds the drive of FGCU students makes them ideal candidates for a career at Atwell.
“The type of person going to FGCU is a student who wants to work hard, get through school, get a good degree, and then, once they get a job, they want to work and just be a good person,” said Larocque.
New engineers at Atwell receive mentoring and training from team leaders. Alaniz has moved up in the company and is currently working on projects impacting the Southwest Florida community, like designing affordable housing units in Collier County.
“I have had an immense amount of growth here,” explains Alaniz. “Don’t doubt yourself. You know more than you actually think you know, and if you ever have doubts, there is someone on Atwell’s team who’s going to help you. It’s always a team effort.”
Down the hall from Alaniz sits FGCU civil engineering graduate Cesareo Leos. Leos was also an intern at Atwell during his time in college. He now holds the title of project coordinator and works on various land development projects in Southwest Florida, like golf courses and multifamily housing.
“To be honest, I feel like I got so lucky. I am 100% happy with where I landed,” said Leos. “It has been both challenging and rewarding, but I continue to grow within, and I never feel stuck.”
All three FGCU graduates credit small class sizes and hands-on learning to their success in the professional world. Larocque now sits on FGCU’s Environmental and Civil Engineering Advisory Board, a group of professionals who review the current curriculum and make recommendations based on what is happening in the industry.
Tanya Kunberger, professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering and Construction Management, says the board’s perspective is beneficial for coursework but also helps build solid relationships between local companies and students.
“FGCU was founded as a regional comprehensive university to address the needs of Southwest Florida, which is even more important now with the rapid growth that is occurring in the region and the growing population,” Kunberger said. “Having qualified engineers who called this area home before they received their degree means they are even more likely to balance the importance of our unique natural environment with the development the region is experiencing.”
For Leos, and his other FGCU colleagues, landing at Atwell has been a successful start to his engineering career.
“Many of us in Atwell’s Bonita Springs office come from FGCU, so we have that similar background,” said Leos. “I just think it’s awesome [that] there’s a place here in Southwest Florida actively hiring from FGCU and helping the local community grow.”
- Learn more at the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering website