What I Learned from My Tekna Internship and More (No Coffee Runs Required!)
By Gabe Arthur, Engineering Intern
As a first-year aerospace engineering student, the expectations I set for my first summer internship were not high. I had heard horror stories about entry-level interns spending 12 weeks running countless errands and fine-tuning their boss’s coffee order―only to head back to school before learning anything about their aspired field of work. I had already spent one summer as a barista and wasn’t looking forward to working a coffee machine in that capacity ever again. Fortunately for me, employees at Tekna make their own coffee!
I am extremely grateful that Tekna took a chance by hiring such a young student. Surprisingly, no one seemed to care much about my age when tasking me with projects. I was treated as teammate from day one. People valued my insight and, most importantly, answered each of my million-or-so questions with meaningful responses and useful nuggets of advice. I also learned how to ask the right questions―how to take a step back and determine the true problem at hand. Experiences like this are hard to come by in a classroom. Instead of being one of many students lectured by a single professor, at Tekna, I was a single student surrounded by a team of mentors.
The engineering problems they brought me were fun to solve because I was encouraged to approach them from my own perspective. One of my favorite challenges was integrating an Arduino and an LCD display with mechanical inputs and a touch screen to control a graphical user interface. The interface was then tested in a usability study that I helped conduct. After the usability study, I shared my technical findings with the engineering team and the qualitative results with the industrial design team. Seeing users interact with a product I programmed and fabricated was both valuable and rewarding―an opportunity that I wish all my classmates could experience.
After a couple months, I was given my own projects and was trusted to work directly with customers, tailoring my work to their individual requirements. The variation in projects was refreshing and something I’m sure few engineers have the chance to explore. From military products to medical devices to kitchen tools, my engineering exposure has grown beyond the realm of aerospace. This technical diversity may one day allow me to approach a difficult problem in a new way.
Tekna also allowed me to spend time learning about my own field. Every once in a while, I would dive deeply into a topic that interested me even if it provided limited direct benefit to the company. For example, I spent a few days learning how to use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software. CFD is critical in aerospace, and learning how to use it is a very important step in my development as an engineer. Even though the project I was working on at the time had little to do with aerospace, I used CFD to create an interactive trade diagram for selecting a linear actuator for a specific application. I’m so thankful that Tekna recognized the value of allowing me to explore my passion through the lens of a project at hand. This theme of empowerment was repeated time and time again. Project leaders would present me with a problem that I didn’t know the answer to, then they would give me the time and resources I needed to find a solution on my own.
I worked on a lot of interesting products this summer, but the most intriguing thing about this company is by far the people―not only its workers but the network surrounding Tekna. I found myself in offices, large factories, and small shops meeting so many people with unique perspectives and technical backgrounds. Their stories and experiences have shown me that engineering is so much more than crunching numbers and coming up with a good solution. It’s about improving the lives of others. In one way or another, the product or component being designed is intended to make an aspect of someone’s life better. That’s something I didn’t learn from a textbook but attribute to the people at Tekna for teaching me.
As a first-year aerospace engineering student, the expectations I set for my first summer internship were not high. I had heard horror stories about entry-level interns spending 12 weeks running countless errands and fine-tuning their boss’s coffee order―only to head back to school before learning anything about their aspired field of work.