My internship as a systems engineer

Manuel Losada, Electrical Engineering Student

Manuel Losada, electrical engineering student

Name: Manuel Losada

Hometown: Born in Camaguey, Cuba, and raised in Miami, Florida

What is your major? Electrical engineering

Where did you intern? I interned at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

What did you there? I worked as a systems engineer for the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) Department. As a systems engineer, I mainly interfaced between the technicians who brought my design to life and the customer (government) who required information such as: whether the system was at military standard, when the testing would be completed, setbacks and progress. In general, I provided documentation for the customers and designs for the technician.

What projects did you work on? I worked as a systems engineer for the Joint Precision and Approach Landing System government contract, which is basically auto-landing for fighter jets. The JPAL System is composed of three machines that go on an aircraft carrier. One machine interprets calculations generated by a separate system. The second machine receives the interpreted calculations and sends them to the antenna, all the while we are getting feedback from the plane. The feedback comes from the third machine. I worked specifically on testing all these machines under Electromagnetic Interference (EMI). This is the technical term for when a hostile or military enemy tries to disrupt signals among fighter jets.

How did you get your internship? I attended the 2016 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC) Conference, powered by Great Minds in STEM, in Anaheim, California. I was approached by the lead engineer of JPALS from Rockwell Collins because I was wearing a pin of his favorite microcontroller brand. Then he interviewed me for the internship.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Polish your resume and make your people skills extremely apparent. When an employer interviews to fill an engineering position, they typically use what is called the STAR interview method, which is a behavioral assessment that stands for situation, task, action and result. The employer is gauging how organized your thoughts are and if you ramble incoherently after a question, that could lower your chances of getting the internship. Be confident!

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? While I was interning at Rockwell Collins, I learned that clear communication is the best strategy for fulfilling deadlines. For instance, John, my supervisor at Rockwell Collins, asked me how many cables I thought we needed to build for testing units. I told him we would be safe with three cables in case two of them break or are misplaced. John proceeded with asking me what is a reasonable lead time to complete this task and I was unsure, but told him I would ask the technicians and have an answer for him within the hour. This ties back to my coursework because in most engineering courses, there are projects that need to be completed in teams and communication among team members is the key to success and completing tasks within deadline.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship? I was able to visit Chicago and afford it!

What did you like most about your experience? I loved the bond that my cubemate and I forged over the summer. We shared a passion for embedded systems, cooking and Game of Thrones.

What did you learn about yourself? I’m good at managing my money. I managed my money by being frugal and only buying things on sale. I also created multiple accounts with Blue Apron, Green Chef and numerous box services so I could get 50 percent off their weekly box deals.

How did the position increase your professional confidence? In my particular internship, my responsibilities were the same as those of full-time engineers. The tasks that were assigned to me contributed directly to the project. I designed cables that were impervious to signal jamming. I saw they were being used when I went in to test the JPAL System. Seeing what I had designed and seeing it in action was extremely gratifying. My cables were so well-designed that the drafters of the company simply copied and pasted my “rough” schematics into the official release. This position definitely increased my professional confidence.

How did you expand your professional network? The great thing about interning is that usually companies will have a number of activities for the interns, such as intramural sports and salsa nights, making it extremely easy to network with other students. At Rockwell Collins, there were a number of events that allowed interns to take a look at other departments and their projects, as well as interviewing with other department heads. They really took the pressure out of networking and made it fun to do. All I really had to do was show up to events with enthusiasm and curiosity.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world”? For the first time ever, I had to study for my classes, work and take care of house responsibilities all by myself. Luckily, I was able get all of my coursework done, keep my apartment neat, cook great food and enjoy the weekends. I’ve lived with my parents my whole life, and I was insecure about that dependency for a long time, but this internship helped me prove to myself that I have the organization skills to live on my own and succeed.