Gaining technical skills as an engineering student can be difficult, and many internships and jobs expect students to have done more than just what was taught in the classroom. I cannot recommend engineering project teams enough, as they allow you to get hands-on experience that will develop your technical, leadership and interpersonal skills tremendously.
When I first came to the University of Michigan, I knew I wanted to study computer engineering (coding + electronic hardware) but wasn’t doing much besides working through introductory coding, math, and physics classes. I then decided to sit in on a Michigan Mars Rover Team (MRover) Electrical meeting, where I was immediately exposed to circuit board design on my first day, which was a significant step up from what I was learning in my classes, and a completely new concept for me. From there, my interest in circuits and electronics rocketed.
As a freshman, I got first-hand experience designing, manufacturing, and testing circuit boards (which isn’t formally taught until junior/senior year classes). I also met other students in computer engineering who became some of my closest friends and still are to this day. Additionally, the team held social events where I got to meet more students and have a blast outside of class. I continued to put in work on the team and was selected to lead the Embedded Hardware team going into my junior year.
This was when my technical knowledge really started to grow exponentially. I met and mentored new students and taught them that with time, they could develop the same skills I had. I led the team to design and create some of the most advanced electronics the team had seen, and learned an incredible amount about software, hardware and how they worked together. Being in a position where you can guide your own learning and help guide others at the same time was a phenomenal experience.
Each year as I applied to internships, I found myself talking mostly about my time on MRover. I could point out what projects I worked on, my exact role in them, and the technical topics I learned and worked through.
Going into engineering, the best advice I can give is to join a project team. They are one of the best ways to develop technical skills, which then help you get internships/jobs, and are probably the best place to meet like-minded people in your field which will further help you develop into a great engineer.
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