Brenden Hatton and Steve Horvath at Engineering Expo.

Brenden Hatton and Steve Horvath, Garmin employees, visit the senior design project that Hatton was the mentor for.

Less than an hour away from Oregon State University, Garmin has long taken advantage of the proximity of their site in Salem, Oregon.

“We certainly have more alumni from Oregon State than anywhere else,” said Jason Bushnell, human resources manager for Garmin in Salem, Oregon. He estimates that, of the 275 engineers at the Salem site, at least a quarter of them are from Oregon State.

Those numbers are the result of a concerted effort that began in 2003, after Garmin acquired UPS Aviation Technologies. Steve Horvath was working for the UPS subsidiary when Garmin absorbed the Salem site.

“We already had a good connection with Oregon State, and our HR department said, ‘You are going to need to grow,’ so that’s when we got even more involved,” said Horvath, now a staff aviation systems engineer for Garmin.

But it was more than just attending career fairs; employees at Garmin made an effort to build relationships. And not just with the students, but with the professors and staff as well. As part of the Industry Advisory Board, and as longtime INSPiRE members, Garmin employees like Horvath have become part of the community in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and are able to help guide the school to make student experiences more relevant to industry needs.

“It’s great that we have influence on the curriculum,” Bushnell said. “We love how the students come with strong C programming skills because a lot of universities don’t even teach that anymore.”

Although Garmin employees are on campus for pretty much every career and networking event, they also have found multiple ways to connect more personally with students. Each year, Garmin hires about 25 interns, with more than half employed on a six-month internship through the MECOP program which has been a very successful pathway to full-time positions for many Oregon State students. 

“We want our interns to have great engineering experiences,” Horvath said.

Additionally, the Kao Family Foundation gives scholarships to six students a year, through a program initiated by Garmin’s co-founder, Min Kao. In Garmin style, they don’t just hand over the money, but they come to campus every fall to host a dinner to honor the recipients. They also bring the students out to the Garmin campus in the spring to tour the facilities.

What naturally happens is that Oregon State students who have become Garmin employees want to come back to campus to let other students know about their experiences. So, many of the alumni return for career fairs, club events, or to mentor senior design projects.

“The students see people who were in their shoes just a year before, or two years before, and now they’re real engineers coming back to talk to them, and that's been really effective for recruitment,” Bushnell said.

Brenden Hatton, aviation software engineer for Garmin AT, was a recent graduate who mentored a senior design team this year on a project to track airplanes.

“I wanted get to know the students and also make sure that they know about Garmin if they are interested in aviation because I enjoy working there,” Hatton said.