January 16, 2024 | by Dolores Landeck

Student Competitions: Four Reasons Why You Don't Want to Miss Out

Looking to give yourself an edge in building the career you want? A solid academic record and strong references are fundamental—your hard work and reputation will always pay off in the long run.

But if you want to stand out in a crowded job market, ASABE members Nitin Rai and Rosie Maloney have a suggestion that you don't want to overlook: Get involved in student competitions. 

They should know. Both have competed in and earned recognition for their efforts in ASABE student contests. Rai earned second place in the 2023 Ethics Essay Competition, while Maloney and her team from North Carolina State University claimed top honors in the 2023 Bioprocess Startup Competition

Sure, there are plenty of obvious reasons why you don't want to take a pass on these opportunities—cash awards and recognition for starters—but Maloney and Rai offer some compelling arguments you might not have considered.

1. The Immersive Experience

Photo of Rosie MaloneyThe classroom is where learning starts, but it’s by putting that learning into practice that you solidify your tech competency. Student competitions provide that opportunity.

Maloney (photo right) says her efforts with the Bioprocess Startup contest gave her a valuable talking point with corporate recruiters. “I had some bioprocessing experience to talk about at career fairs and on my resume,” says Maloney. Immersing yourself in a competition can also help sharpen career goals, she says, helping you figure out which sides of your major you're most passionate about.

Rai found that his experience with the Ethics Essay Competition complemented his research, which focuses on artificial intelligence. “[It] provided me with an opportunity to explore the application of the ethical principles I learned while writing this essay,” he says, which will enhance the ethical dimensions of his research.

2. Soft-Skill Development

Technical competency is at the core of any engineering or technology degree, but workplace success requires being able to work and communicate effectively with others. Student competitions, especially team competitions, mimic the workplace in many ways.

“Participating in the Bioprocess Competition,” Maloney found, was “a great way to develop teamwork, communication, leadership, time management, presentation, and writing skills, which are useful in all parts of life.” 

Student competitions also provide an opportunity to develop your own mentorship skills. This is especially true of team competitions, but even competing solo can provide opportunities for you to work with and coach younger students in your academic department. Employers love job candidates who not only have personal ambition but also appreciate and work toward the success of the team.

3. Community Building

Student competitions can be the source of lifelong friendships, and at a minimum can help you build your own professional network.

Take a moment to appreciate just how many people with whom you will interact—and on whom you’ll make an impression.

Peers probably top the list. Rai says students will get to know you as you represent your university on an international platform. “This in turn encourages other students at the same university to compete with more enthusiasm.“

Also included are team advisors, other faculty, competition sponsors, and judges. All may be in a position, now or in the years to come, to support your professional goals.

Just as importantly, your participation in student competitions demonstrates a level of professional leadership that strengthens the wider engineering and technology community to which you belong. As a competition alumnus, you'll have the opportunity to connect with and influence a rising generation of engineers. Maloney recalls that she met a company representative at a career fair “who had also competed in ASABE competitions when she was an undergrad student, which was a great way to connect while we chatted.”

Photo of Nitin Rai holding a drone4. Personal Satisfaction

A sense of pride and achievement can create self-confidence to carry with you in the years to come. Don’t underestimate the role that competition experience can play in providing that.

And there’s a spark that competition experience can ignite. Rai (photo left) summarizes it in one word: motivating. While at the 2023 Annual International Meeting, he visited several competition booths, to observe and learn what they offer. He was particularly inspired by robotics competition teams troubleshooting and fixing bugs on their robots to get it to solve challenges.  “The amount of hard work students were putting in to compete for the first place really motivated me,” he says.

Get Involved, and Enjoy the Experience

You probably chose your field of study because you found interest and enjoyment in the subject matter. Indulge yourself in that enjoyment to better understand what it is about your major that brings you satisfaction.

Regardless of your performance outcome, the investment of time and energy that you make will be repaid by the lessons you learn, and the reputation you burnish, along the way.

Ready to jump in? Learn about ASABE’s Student Competitions.