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Mystery Shopping Across Generations

Jamie Heller, a rising junior and mechanical engineer here at Duke, is getting a taste of office life this summer. He is currently working as an intern at Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors in Atlanta. Heller heard about the internship through the Pratt career advisers, and decided to take a chance on a career experience outside of the engineering field.

Heller turns out to be lucky twice over. He gets to stay close to his hometown interning for Wilkinson’s offices in Atlanta, and he also works under the direction of a former Pratt alumnus, Jerry Wilkinson, who graduated with an electrical engineering degree. Heller says he is fortunate to work under Wilkinson because Jerry showed him that engineers are versatile in the job market.

Jamie HellerIronically, although he intended to have a non-engineering experience, Heller said he has learned a lot about the value of engineering as a career. “Engineering is putting in the hours and doing the hard work, and if you like it enough, go into that.”

But perhaps more importantly, an engineering base also provided a lot of flexibility in the real world, Heller adds. “It prepares you to be able to work hard and solve problems.”

Heller says that his engineering education at Duke prepared him for the job in several ways. “My education gave me confidence and problem-solving skills, if they (office personnel) ask me to do something I know how to do it without having to ask questions,” he said.

Besides helping to consolidate phone bills, creating spreadsheets, and doing other office necessities, Heller spends time driving out to various properties and doing what the real estate business calls “mystery shopping." Mystery shopping involves going out to a property and essentially pretending to be interested in it for the purpose of gathering information for market analysis.

Heller says that his summer employment has been a great real world experience but hasn’t changed his study plan much. “I’m more inclined to continue studying sciences.”

As for Heller’s career or future plans? Heller says, “I have no idea yet. I'm thinking maybe grad school.”

Perhaps that will remain a mystery as well, at least for now.