Future engineers tackle big ideas in summer intern program

Shanelle Clarke, PhD student and participant in the Summer Engineering Project Program (SEPP), describes to SEPP fair attendees a method her team explored to enable autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle operations. Click to enlarge

Imagine stepping into a room filled with excited young engineers, new ideas and plenty of energy. That’s what it’s like to attend the annual Summer Engineering Project Program (SEPP) Fair, which took place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, July 26.

SEPP was established by Rockwell Collins in 1995 to allow students the opportunity to work with mentors within the company on special engineering projects. This year, 13 teams showed off their hard work at the fair. Talk to any of the teams at the event and they’ll be quick to tell you they aren’t just taking on small ideas. They’re solving the real issues our industry is facing today.

Nick Kiesel, a computer engineering student at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, was on a team tasked with incorporating current flight management system (FMS) technology with unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Their project could mean safer skies for manned and unmanned aircraft sharing the same airspace.

But it’s more than the outcome of the work, according to Kiesel. “We got to work on this project from start to finish, with plenty of guidance. Rockwell Collins really trusts us and gives us the tools and mentors we need to make a real impact.”

Throughout the summer program, the teams are exposed to several subject matter experts and engineering processes, all of which benefit them as they continue their education.

It’s good for Rockwell Collins, too

While the student teams certainly have a lot to gain from a program like SEPP, the company doesn’t come away empty handed. Alex Postnikov, principal engineering manager, Advanced Technology Center (ATC) for Rockwell Collins, sees plenty of upside to the process.

“The biggest benefit to us is finding and mentoring new talent,” said Postnikov. “They get exposed to places like the ATC and how we do our research and work.”

Postnikov says those students will take their new knowledge back to school, keep developing their skills and eventually be an asset to employers like Rockwell Collins.

Kiesel agrees. “It’s great to be able to come in and build something useful right away while using the expertise here. Who knows? This very technology may become a product someday,” said Kiesel.

And that’s the whole point. Developing talent while exploring the next big thing. A win-win for all involved.

Story posted: August 14, 2018

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