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Many Paths, One Future Helps Students Explore Careers

Neal Udsen has always loved cooking, and, from an early age, he knew what his future would hold. He started in the Middlesex County College culinary program in 2016, loved it and looked forward to a career in the food service industry. But then he took an externship in a restaurant. It was all consuming, 12-hour days, with unsteady schedules – rarely two days off in a row – and he rethought his plans.

It was about this time that he took a restaurant business class with Deborah Lynch of the Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Dietetics program. Professor Lynch, who is also co-owner of Sigma Design Company, a full service engineering design and manufacturing firm, was looking for an intern with shop skills who knew how to use power tools. A match was made, and Mr. Udsen now has a different career focus.

Sigma Design is participating in “Many Paths, One Future,” a program run by the New Jersey Department of Labor. Charlotte Quigley, manager of career training at MCC, said the program, introduced in the spring of 2017, pays a portion of the intern’s salary for certain jobs. Either the industry or the specific job must be in a high-demand area, such as technology, advanced manufacturing, hospitality, logistics or health care. Mr. Udsen works about 25 hours a week.

“I’m really enjoying the work at Sigma,” he said. “It’s giving me a true understanding of what this field is like.”

Jerry Lynch, who serves on the advisory board for MCC’s Engineering program and is the other owner of Sigma, says the internship is a partnership between the company and intern. Both must benefit for it to be successful.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “An internship is great because, okay, you get a salary and it looks good on your resume, but the real beauty of it is the discovery. It’s is the discovery of finding out that this is what you want to do with the rest of your life, or the opposite, that it is not what you want as a career and you have plenty of time to change it.”

Mr. Udsen echoed those remarks, suggesting that he is planning to transfer to Rutgers, but did not want to spend two years there, accumulate debt and then find out he was on a career path that was unappealing.

While Mr. Udsen was skilled with power tools, he started in administration. But in a small company such as Sigma, everyone has multiple responsibilities. So he has picked up and delivered, worked in shipping and receiving, sorted files, and developed mailing lists and marketing pieces.

Mr. Lynch says the diversity of tasks will benefit Mr. Udsen.

“It’s a full business experience,” he said. “Here, everyone does everything.”

Sigma provides engineering, manufacturing and testing services in electronics, filtration and separation technologies, food and beverage, medical, marine, environmental systems and alternative energy. Projects range from a huge offshore platform wench to a small-but-sturdy butter churn. Sigma designs the projects, and it also manufactures some as well.

Its work is diverse and imaginative, and can be summed up by the license plate frame on the back of one of its trucks: “Yeah, we can do that.”