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Grilling opens new avenue for networking

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Scientists and engineers often are portrayed as socially inept geeks who rarely stray from their equations or whiteboards.

Some believe they're doomed to spend their lives isolated within their own departments because they can't master the networking skills necessary to advance their careers.

But at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., science and engineering students aren't buying into that stereotype. While they haven't started hitting the golf course to make valuable connections, they've found another way to network.

It's called a grill.

Every week, about 34 science, math and engineering students armed with marinades, steaks, seafood and even pancake batter gather on campus around a customized grill that an engineering student designed and built. Once the grill is fired up, the smells that waft over the campus on Thursday nights serve as a powerful attractor to faculty and students.

That gives the students a chance to interact with others while comfortably focusing on grilling.

“Grilling more or less fits our style. We're into fire,” said Justin Arnold, a biochemistry senior and president of the Grilling Club. “We're always trying to see who can start a fire the best.”

The club began last year and usually attracts students beyond engineering, giving science and math nerds a chance to hone their conversational skills away from the classroom that dominates so much of their time.

“We've broken away from the social-networking craze,” Arnold said. “We're out there talking to people.”

The club tries to be creative by having themes for their cookouts, such as grilling seafood during Discovery Channel's Shark Week. It tries to educate members during meetings, and some recent subjects have included basic marinades, food safety — and a lecture from the fire marshal on fire safety.

Arnold said Kettering always has emphasized networking among students, but the grilling group has offered its members a way to practice their socialization and networking skills while being in the relaxed environment of a cookout.

“The club isn't something that consumes a huge amount of time, but it's really something to look forward to,” he said. “It's one hour during the week to relax and have fun, and you don't feel so stressed.”

The club has developed such a good reputation for its culinary skills that other groups request its services. Arnold said members try to give back by cooking for charity events and even used their skills to feed the Greek Honor Society.

Beverly Kaye, a career and networking expert, said the students' grilling idea is a smart one because they have found a way to connect that makes sense for them. Too many times people get turned off at the concept of networking because they see it as manipulating or using others.

“Networking is really about what you can do for other people,” she said. “The grilling shows that.”

Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy ... and How to Avoid Them,” www.45things.com. Write her in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108. For a reply, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Twitter: @AnitaBruzzese.

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