Business, education communities help launch a career

By Dave Conrad

L-R: Abul Islam, President/CEO, AI Engineers Inc.; Danilo Sena; Jocelyn Feder, Sr. Director, Management Services, AI Engineers.
L-R: Abul Islam, President/CEO, AI Engineers Inc.; Danilo Sena; Jocelyn Feder, Sr. Director, Management Services, AI Engineers.

Danilo Sena walked across the stage at UConn this spring with a degree in engineering and walked right into a new job with AI Engineers Inc. in downtown Hartford.

For the Brazilian native and Hartford resident, it was the culmination of a truly full-circle experience.

Just five years ago, Danilo was a high school intern working at AI, recently named one of America's top 500 design firms, under the mentorship of Abul Islam, AI's president and CEO.

Islam and AI were participating in a CBIA mentoring program at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AEGT), a public high school in Hartford. Other business participants included several divisions of United Technologies Corporation.

The program's goal was to give students a vision for what their lives could become and a taste of what it's really like to contribute in today's world of work.

Interviewed by NBC Connecticut's Brad Drazen at the time, Danilo said he had the vision to be an engineer because he loved math and he loved Islam's passion for engineering. It showed.

"Danilo exceeded expectations with every assignment given to him," reported his supervisor during the internship. The manager also hailed his "curiosity, ability to engage with people, and work ethic."

Spark and Energy

After graduating from AEGT, and with a CBIA scholarship in hand, Danilo attended Manchester Community College for two years, earning an associate of science degree in engineering science before transferring to UConn to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering.

Abul Islam didn't forget him. And when he had a chance to hire Danilo, he jumped at it.

"The spark and energy that Danilo exhibited during his internship with AI a few summers ago caught everyone's attention," says Islam. "He certainly demonstrated that he could be a successful engineer, manager, and eventually a leader, which are the characteristics our firm wants to develop in its employee base."

Much has been written about the need to develop a world-class talent pipeline to meet the needs of Connecticut businesses. Scores of programs and initiatives have been created to help young people awaken to the great potential that awaits them if they have a vision and work hard to achieve it. Danilo is that story.

For CBIA's Education Foundation, which is working on many fronts to bring business, education, and local communities together to fill Connecticut's need for skilled talent, Danilo represents a best-case scenario that the foundation wants to replicate many times over.

Connecticut is renowned for its talented workforce, but employers and educators are concerned about keeping the pipeline flowing: and for good reason.

In PwC's 2015 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings, Connecticut placed 14th for education: not bad, but we were 9th in the previous PwC rankings.

Many employers openly worry that they are not seeing young job candidates with the academic and professional skills: communication, decision-making, teamwork: necessary to succeed at work.

To boost his professional skills, Danilo also participated in the CBIA-sponsored YES (youth employability skills) Academy, which each year preps AEGT students for the workplace experience: from what to wear to what to say and how to act.

Transformative Impact

"Danilo's story is a prime example of the ways in which partnerships can not only provide value-add to businesses, but also have a transformative impact on students' lives," says Andrea Comer, executive director of CBIA's Education Foundation. "For Danilo and AI Engineers, the experience has come full circle, and that's the power of internships."

Five years ago, Danilo said he planned to be running his own company within 30 years. It's a goal he may have to recalculate: by moving it up a decade or so.

Dave Conrad (dave.conrad@cbia.com) is a senior writer at CBIA.