The Importance of Persistence: Meet Michael Boulus, a Student Who Never Gives Up

Michael Boulus, who is doing a summer internship at PSE&G, is pictured here working in the field on the electrical grid.

Michael Boulus loves to learn.  Every person he meets, he believes, has something to teach him about life – no matter the person’s job or educational attainments.  

He also learns from reading, mostly articles and websites unrelated to his major: electrical engineering.  And whenever he reads something instructive, he tries to use that knowledge. One day, for instance, he read a website interview with Greg Mass, who directs NJIT’s Career Center.

In the interview, Mass advices students on what they must do to find internships and jobs during a recession.  Students must be aggressive in their job searches, Mass advices, especially during a recession when companies are hiring less.  Given their strong technical and analytical backgrounds, Mass says, NJIT students are still sought after by companies, even in a recession.  But they must actively go after the jobs and internships they want.

Boulus, who just finished his junior year at NJIT, took Mass’s advice to heart. When he applied for a summer internship at PSE&G, he persisted in emailing and calling the recruiter in Human Resources.  She didn’t respond to him, but he didn’t despair. Rather, he kept right on emailing her.  He began his search in February, and waited until May to hear something promising from her. 

Then, in June, the recruiter responded and invited him in for an interview.  Later, she offered him the job.  He’s now in the second month of the internship – a job he loves.

He works at PSE&G’s headquarters in downturn Newark, a short walk from the NJIT campus. He was placed in the company’s Asset Management group, where he helps engineers, many of whom are NJIT graduates, manage sub-station equipment such as transformers and circuit breakers. At NJIT, Boulus has a concentration in Power and Energy Systems (through the BS/MS program) so the work is perfectly allied with his academic interests. And what’s more interesting about his job is that he gets to go out into the field with engineers. Whenever there’s an electrical fault – a breakdown or a short circuit in the system – the engineers visit PSE&G’s substations and plants. And Boulus gets to sometimes go along with them.  He’s also helping the group research new devices to monitor transformers and cool them if they overheat. 

“I love working on these projects,” Boulus said recently while seated in his cubicle on the 12th floor of the sprawling PSE&G building. “I get to go out in the field and ask all sorts of wild questions to the engineers here, who take the time to answer in detail.  So far they have all been of great help to me.  Everyone here is super nice; the atmosphere is ideal for learning.  I’m so grateful to PSE&G for this great internship.”

Boulus, 21, is quick to show gratitude to those who help him. He was born in Egypt and came to America with his parents and sister when he was 14.  He possesses old-world manners – he’s humble and respectful of others.  He’s very close to his Egyptian parents, who he says taught him so much about life and learning. From his father, a former factory owner who works in America as a fashion designer, he learned wisdom; from his mother, a former medical doctor who now teaches kindergarten, he learned the value of persistence. And they both taught him to be grateful to those who help him through life. 

Therefore, after he got the PSE&G internship, Boulus wrote to Mass, the Career Center director, thanking him. That the two had never met didn’t matter to Boulus. What he read in Mass’s interview helped him get the internship – the PSE&G recruiter told him she hired him in part because of his persistence – so he felt a need to thank him. This is what Boulus wrote to Mass:

Dear Mr. Mass,

I’m emailing you to thank you for the internship I am now working.  Though you had an indirect effect, I believe your advice was a key factor for my getting this job.

I read your interview on the NJIT website.  Throughout the interview you shed the light on what students need to do in their job searches.  You especially advised students to be aggressive in their job searches.  Before I read this, I used to apply for jobs but never follow up.  I was embarrassed to call back and ask for a job, thinking I’d sound too cocky.  But when I applied to PSE&G, I took your advice. I’ve also noticed that students are selfish sometimes: Once they get what they want, they forget about whoever helped them get that. I felt that I had to thank you because your advice helped me. And if after I graduate I get a full time job at PSE&G, it will be in large part because of your instrumental advice. 

Michael Boulus

Before he got the internship at PSE&G, Boulus worked at a well-loved Italian restaurant in Nutley called Queen Margherita. He started working at the restaurant when he was a senior in high school. So when he told the restaurant’s owner about his internship at PSE&G, which meant he’d have to leave his job at the restaurant, the owner gave him a bit of advice – words he’s never forgotten. 

“Michael,” the owner told him, “the key to doing well in life is respecting people – respecting the people you work for and your customers.  If you do that, you’ll go far in life.”

Boulus picks up pearls of wisdom from the people he meets – “everyone has something to teach you” -- as well as from what he reads and watches. A few years ago, for example, he watched the film “Rocky.” This was during a time in his college career when he was struggling with advanced mathematics. He had just taken Calculus 2 and, to his dismay, received a substandard C.  He felt like a failure.  But then something the Rocky character says in the movie struck a chord with him:

“It ain’t about how hard you hit,” Rocky says in a pivotal scene. “It’s about how hard you can get hit and still get up. Get up and keep moving forward. That’s how you win.”

When he was a boy, Bolus’s parents had also told him that to overcome obstacles in life one must be persistent and persevering.  So when he took his next math class -- Calculus 3 -- he exercised an iron will and steely determination.  And at the semester’s end, he earned an A -- the same grade he would earn the following semester in an even tougher math class: Differential Equations.

“No one is perfect and without flaws,” Boulus says, with a maturity far beyond his 21 years. “What I’ve learned from my parents and from Rocky and from Mr. Mass is that it’s important to be persistent – not to give up. You’ll never win all the time in life, no one does. But what’s essential is to bounce back from your defeats. That’s how you win in life.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)