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EWU’s SOAR Career Conference lets employers showcase their projects while giving students a window on possible career opportunities


Last updated 5/9/2019 at 4:22pm

Officially, the mission of Eastern Washington University’s first SOAR (Student Online Academic Review) Career Conference is to “support EWU students as they learn about exciting and innovative strategies forming in traditional and up-and-coming fields from industry leaders.”

Unofficially, the May 16 gathering of students and STEM industry professionals might be better portrayed by something less formal, like the title of one of it’s several seminars: “What I wish someone had told me when I was 20.”

In an email, conference coordinator Romeal Watson said SOAR’s theme is “preparing our students for the innovative future.” The format is much the same as previous conferences that have taken place at EWU under different names, Watson said in a May 6 interview, but with a different focus, particularly with its various sessions.

While past conferences have utilized industry professionals to advise students how to prepare for careers, SOAR gives those professionals a chance to showcase new, cutting-edge projects they may be working on as recruitment tools while students get a look at where various fields are going and evaluate what they need to do to be prepared to enter that workforce.

“Readiness-type stuff,” Watson said of past conferences. “As for this (SOAR), it’s more centered around innovation.”

The first block of sessions Thursday morning at Eastern’s Pence Union Building features a presentation by Pacific Northwest National Laboratories cyber security engineer Dan Sanner on the challenges of securing Cloud memory storage information, including a demonstration of the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset. The second block includes a presentation by Engie Insight on trends in digitization in “solving global problems to help with a zero carbon transition,” and “Hard Rock vs. Heavy Metal,” a presentation by Army Corps of Engineers dam safety program manager Richard Smith about how the Corps solved repeated, expensive repairs at Mud Mountain Dam’s sediment bypass tunnel near Mount Rainier through innovation.

Highlight speakers will be FatBeam CEO Greg Green, whose welcome address is “Entrepreneuship and Effective Leadership in 2019,” while Mark Gustafson, Avista’s director of innovation and strategy, will provide a keynote address at lunch.

Watson said employers don’t always know what type of talent they are getting coming out of college, and the SOAR conference will help them get to know where students are at in their preparation and career focus. Consequently, students will get a chance to see what employers are looking at, and take advantage of this through classroom and project work.

“The main take of all this is students will have an idea of where things are going and be able to prepare,” Watson said. “If they don’t know what employers are looking for, they’re sort of blind-firing.”

The SOAR Career Conference takes place Thursday, May 16, from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. at various locations in the PUB. It’s free to EWU students and staff via an RSVP on the Handshake website. Cost to general public is $50, $15 to non-EWU students.

Watson said as of May 6, over 300 people have registered for the conference. More information and registration information is available at

John McCallum can be reached at


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