June 6, 2016
Engineers are born with the spirit and mindset to delve into how things work and innovate new and better ways of doing things. A four-year degree can be the springboard that vaults them into a professional career in making and inventing. That education must provide the fundamental knowledge of a chosen discipline, of course, but it must also give students the ability to apply it in the real world.
In addition to full-time faculty members, students in Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science learn from adjunct faculty, many of whom are full-time, practicing engineers.
One such professor is Gino Duca ’96, G’09, the president and co-founder of Salt City Technical Corporation—an engineering services company. A two-time alumnus of the College’s chemical engineering program, Duca teaches senior design to chemical engineering students, in which he connects them with companies that can arm them with industry experience before they walk across the stage at graduation.
Duca’s experiences as an engineer, student, alum, and professor provide him with unique insight into finding the success in industry that engineering and computer science students strive to achieve.
Where did your bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering take you?
“My first job out of my undergrad was in the paper industry. I’ve been willing to try different things. I worked in industry as an engineer for 10 years after I earned my bachelor’s degree before deciding to return to academics and eventually start my own business.”
“I definitely had to use my understanding of polymers and process engineering in my career, but I find students commonly expect that they are going to apply exactly what they’ve learned in school. What they’ll actually apply in the professional world is their ability to learn and to think problems through effectively.”
What kind of work do you do as president of Salt City Technical?
“Our core competency is design in a mechanical nature, from consumer products to pieces for automation equipment. Generally the client has an idea of what the end result is supposed to be and needs us to provide the necessary engineering resources. We also get involved with engineering studies to help clients determine what’s possible. Also, analytical work—will this product hold under the stresses on it? We have designed products that require electronics and circuit boards, so we work with people with that skill set. Sometimes a process needs modification which could be anything. We’ve done lots of different work. It’s fun really.”
Besides your engineering expertise, what skills do you use to be successful?
“Primarily communication. Obviously if a client is considering hiring you, they want to determine if you’re just some bum or if you’re actually successful at what you do. You have to communicate your ideas effectively. Just based on our conversation they need to know what they’re getting. I teach my students that you have to be able to communicate with various people from all walks of life. You need to know how to communicate and know your audiences’ level of experience and understanding to get your point across.”
What does your day job as a practicing engineer bring to the table for College of Engineering and Computer Science students?
“Certainly having worked in the industry, you can bring real world problems into the classroom. You can actually speak to that, and say these things really do happen, and here’s a situation to help you relate to it. This is the way things get done. This is the normal progress of a process. The solutions aren’t always clear. We are trying to figure out the solution with our clients. Many times there is not clear answer—even when you’re done.”
“Being part of the classroom and industry allows you to know those things. Sometimes I’m able to help connect students with jobs. I have alumni connections that go further back so there are examples of students leaving my class and finding a job through that network, which is always encouraging.”
If nothing else, what do you hope to convey to your students?
“I hope my students take away that this educational process is an exercise to help them develop skills to continue learning for whatever field they are in. There are practical applications for the fundamentals of chemical engineering, but I want them to learn that they need to keep thinking beyond that. When you come to a challenge and you don’t know what to do, you can figure it out. That’s what an engineer does. They try to solve the problem.”