From a young age, I was a tinkerer. I’d tear apart my toys and electronics. I came into Illinois through the Division of General Studies, thinking initially that I’d want to transfer into Computer Science because the movie War Games was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. But, I took an Introduction to Engineering class with Dean Favila that allowed us to explore each discipline within engineering. That is where I learned that I really enjoy the electrical and hardware side of computers. It is what made me pick Electrical Engineering when I transferred into the Grainger College of Engineering.

I would say that the support that I found is what made the difference at Illinois. I never once felt as though I couldn’t do it. It was because I had the support system of Dean Favila, the Morrill Engineering Program, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the teachers. I found being in a classroom with 40 people or 400 people, you can still have that close relationship with your professors.

My biggest support group at Illinois was NSBE. Within NSBE, I served as the Tech Chair of the Tech Team, which did projects throughout the semester. Creating concepts together and developing those concepts over the semester were some of the coolest things that I’ve done. I was also in iVenture, and as a part of this I am a cofounder of a startup called Nouvo which worked on developing a smart pacifier to help detect acid reflux in babies. This project allowed me to focus both on the technical engineering aspects of a project, as well as to learn about project management, industrial design, and how the electronics relate to the material you’re using. This experience was instrumental in helping me transition to my later internships and current full-time job.

I am now an Electrical Engineer at Radio Flyer. I discovered Radio Flyer while looking for an internship. I was surprised to learn that they made more than wagons. It turns out they also make battery-operated vehicles for children like the Model S Tesla for kids! Radio Flyer was really aligned with my interests. It allowed me to utilize my degree and to focus on control systems and prototyping. When I was an undergraduate, I would think about corporate America and worry about environments that are super rigid, strict, suit-and-tie, you can’t be out of line. Radio Flyer wants the environment to be FUNomenal (seriously, you can look it up) and comfortable. Even as an intern I was able to interact weekly with the CEO, we call him the Chief Wagon Officer, and the Chief Technical Advisor. I enjoyed how close knit and supportive the team was, and it made me decide to stay. I also really enjoy the work. Every week, I’m building, innovating, and coming up with new designs. That’s why I chose this path.

For current students, when you are out talking with companies, I encourage you to be genuine to who you are and the values that you set for yourself. You want companies to know exactly who you are, what you’re looking for, and what you value. Doing that sets you apart. They know what you bring to the table, and you know they can see you for who you are. As a result you are more likely to get what you are looking for.

And recently, I’ve noticed that everything is virtual and kind of disconnected. When our company participates in virtual events with campuses, engagement with students isn’t as prevalent as when we made in-person visits. I know it can be stressful as a student, so you just put your head down and try to get through. Eventually you’re going to be looking for those internships, looking for those career opportunities. Now is a really good time to put your head up. Start making those connections. This is probably the best time to set yourself apart. Showing up and putting your best foot forward will definitely make an impact when many others are doing it.