Learn by Doing
After my first year at Nebraska, I went to career fairs all over the Midwest, meeting people and trying to get a good engineering internship. I applied for a lot of internships and I definitely got calls and letters that basically said, “unfortunately you're not quite the right fit for the position,” but I just ran with it because there are so many opportunities out there.
I ended up getting an interview with GE, and they offered me a six-month, full-time co-op at their satellite office in Kansas. At first, I was worried about taking a whole semester off of school, but Career Services is fantastic about taking care of you—they want you in your industry, getting hands-on experience, as much as possible.
Nebraska allows you to work full time and not pay tuition, all without it affecting your GPA. I didn't realize it until I met other students on co-ops, but the majority of other schools require you to go to school full time if you want to remain a student.
The value I got from that GE internship was incredible and gave me so much direction. Something I learned through interning is that if you don’t like one specific area of company, try a different one. I did the six-month co-op in software simulation for their aeronautics division, but I wanted to try out their oil and gas side too, so I just asked a recruiter if I could do that the next summer.
During my second summer internship with GE, I was on an assembly line, doing measurements and running tests to solve problems with natural gas meters. I got the experience of trying to figure out, where did this design fail? What is the issue? Is it a design issue? A fabrication issue? A parts issue? An assembly issue? We ended up figuring out how to decrease natural gas leaks, saving thousands and thousands of dollars. It was awesome to be able to be a part of that major solution.
Interning helped me figure out what I want to do—and not do—in a career. When I got into industry stuff, I realized many jobs are either fixing someone else's design or working on excel, and neither of those things are appealing to me.
I realized I wanted to be more innovative in my career, work with my hands in a high-level lab designing stuff, and working with 3D printing. I realized that if I get my Ph.D. I can work at the highest and newest levels of engineering, on the coolest cutting-edge things. That’s what I want to do. Interning helped me figure that out.
Learning Inside the Classroom
I was figuring things out in the classroom too, and that is where my interest in 3D printing began. I was in a manufacturing class and my professor was talking about working with metals in a 3D printer in the New Engineering Additive Technology (NEAT) labs on campus.
When my professor was a kid, he busted up his elbow and had a titanium screw put in there, and then his bone grew around it so they can't take it out. Now it really hurts when it's cold or humid. He’s trying to figure out a way to 3D print bolts with a material that will dissolve at the same rate that a bone grows back. I told my professor that I wanted in, and he invited me to be part of this research class with a few other students, and we’ve been 3D printing reactive metals.
It’s on the absolute cutting edge of what’s being done with printers. It’s insane to be able to do this work because it's what all of the big engineering schools want to be doing.
I ended up getting to present my part of our research at a major conference in Texas. It was there that I met some grad students from Texas A&M, and that connection led me to their Ph.D. program, which is what I’ll be doing after graduation. I even had someone from one of the National Labs come up after my presentation and basically say, “you're doing cool stuff. We're doing cool stuff too—take my card and apply for an internship with us.” I’ll be doing that this summer, which is another huge step toward the work I want to be doing in the future.
Combining My Experiences
I’ll always be grateful to Nebraska for allowing me to experience the internships, classes and research that all culminated in my decision to continue on to get my Ph.D., which wasn’t my plan when I first started college. My advice to anyone starting out is that you can’t learn without failing. Don’t fear failure. Don't fear feeling foolish. Ask questions, ask a professor, get help. Everybody feels like a fool and if you can learn to feel like a fool and like it, 90 percent of the battle is won.