If a college professor scribbles that high praise in the margin of a paper summarizing a student’s work at the end of a term, one can safely conjecture that real learning has taken place and a promising career looms on the horizon.
But if those singular compliments come at the end of a student’s internship from an engineer who’s a director of product development at a successful, publicly traded international manufacturer of satellite communications and sensor products, it’s a different matter altogether.
That is exactly how the summer unfolded at KVH Industries headquarters in Rhode Island for members of the 2016 class of engineering interns, whose work and research will be directly applied to KVH’s high-performance inertial sensor products. “I’ve worked with interns at other companies,” says Roger Ward, director of KVH fiber optic gyroscope (FOG) product development. “These are the cream of the crop. They were bright, motivated, and eager to learn. And it was a good fit, even factoring in the age difference between senior engineers and university students in their junior and senior years of school.”
Since engineering interns are usually put to work on product testing and support activities, what happened over the hot summer months in the air-conditioned scrum rooms, where team collaboration on software projects takes place, is considered rare, and a testament to a combination of recruitment efforts and the outstanding aptitude of candidates, who hail from the nation’s top universities.
“We value interns and seek to broaden our relationship with educational institutions by choosing qualified students who are on a career path in the fields of science, math, and business,” says Chris Holm, KVH vice president of human resources. “KVH interns often join the company once they graduate.”
The significance of the contributions of the class of summer 2016 isn’t lost on the engineering team at KVH, which is expanding and looking to add talented staff.
“It’s a big deal when a summer student works on a project that actually gets used by a customer,” Ward adds. “In two cases, products will be fielded and go into production. It’s pretty impressive.”
The two examples Ward refers to are the projects of Jaekyung “Jae” Song and Sam Alexander, who both attend Brown University in Providence, RI. Song is now in his senior year majoring in electrical engineering, while Alexander is a junior studying computer science.
In Song’s case, diligence paid off in his successful creation of a new accelerometer circuit board for KVH’s inertial measurement units, which will improve the IMUs’ performance in dynamic applications requiring low noise.
More notes from Ward in bullet points on Song’s presentation document underscore the achievement:
First try was perfect; production ready; 100% testability; form and fit replacement to currently used accelerometer board.
KVH isn’t the only party to benefit from the experience. “I feel I learned so much more here in industry than I learned in school,” Song says. “At a company, one-time solutions don’t work. You must incorporate the manufacturing concerns into the design and make sure it works all the time. I now have a much greater appreciation for the manufacturing point of view.”
Alexander’s challenge was to address refinements to KVH’s FOG/IMU Developer’s Kit, which was released earlier this year as an aid to engineers integrating KVH FOG and FOG-based IMU technology in systems such as driverless cars.
He successfully upgraded the kit by adding new features and resolving software bugs. By the time he left KVH to return to school, Revision B of the Developer’s Kit was ready for release, offering improved stability, greater compatibility, and enhanced functionality.
“It was cool to see how scrum is a team effort to accomplish a group goal,” he says. “Within the structure of priorities and goals, there’s space to advocate for what you think is important. You have to figure out what’s best for the customer. This was also a great way to delve deeper into software and develop a refined sense of where my passions lie.”
One more project that yielded real-world results was conducted by intern Sean Kropp, an aerospace and mechanical engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kropp succeeded in defining an algorithm to improve IMU test and calibration processes and equipment. The method reduces errors and improves IMU performance and efficiency. “Sean’s worked out all the math, and now it’s up to us to implement it,” Ward says.
For Kropp, this was an “eye-opening experience,” he says. “It’s much more fulfilling than any class I’ve taken, and my project’s going to be implemented. It’s exciting to see your work used.”
Rest assured — the summer of 2016 was not all work and no play for this bunch. Kropp played in weekend volleyball tournaments at a beach in Newport, RI, just a few miles from KVH headquarters. Alexander, who spent previous summers teaching sailing in Marblehead, Massachusetts, got out on the water as much as he could. And Song, who grew up in Canada and is primarily a landlubber, participated in a teambuilding challenge aboard America’s Cup 12-meter class yachts. “It was cold and windy,” he says, “but I loved it.”