Close-up of industrial machine.

Expedition in Engineering

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For a writing class, Giuliano Romano interviews alum Rani Karana. Read on about robots, internships, and learning from mistakes.

I am Rani Karana and I graduated from Oakland University in 2017. Currently, I work as a design release engineer for a company called Nippon Seiki International. If one was to look back on my path to becoming an engineer, they would be surprised to see the numerous challenges I faced in order to get the position that I have today. I was not the best student, had no idea what actual engineering was like for the longest time, and faced failure with my team in a robotics competition. However, thanks to a few great classes, clubs, and internships, I was able to explore my interests, overcome obstacles, and begin a career that I love.

Close-up of industrial machine.
Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

I began my journey at Macomb Community College, just taking my general education classes. I didn’t always do the best in school, but I had a natural curiosity and wanted to know how everything around me worked. My father suggested that, as a career, I’d enter what he referred as the “highway of engineering” or electrical engineering. It is a very broad field of engineering that covers all sorts of things. At the time, I had no idea what electrical engineers do and thought they just worked on circuit panels on a house. I now know they might create the panel at some company, but they don’t wire it up or do anything, as that’s more of the job of an electrician. Although I did not know exactly what engineers did, I figured that I would take my father’s advice and give it a shot. So, once I finished my classes at Macomb, I transferred to Oakland and began taking engineering courses.

At first, the engineering courses just seemed like upper level physics courses. It wouldn’t be until much later that I realized that an engineering program doesn’t teach you how to be an engineer. It more so helps build a mindset that allows one to think differently, figure out how the things around us work and tweak things so that they work better. That mindset is valuable, and I knew that with it I would have many career options.

In order to gain some experience and some exposure, I decided to join the robotics team. I was initially hesitant because I knew nothing about robotics and programming. But I figured I should just go to a few meetings to see what it was like. Initially, I figured that I would just provide ideas, even if I had no idea how to execute them. As I began to go to the meetings, I would ask questions like, “Why does that matter?,” “Why do you need it?,” and “How does it control it?” Before I started college, I had also considered doing computer engineering, and being in this club and asking questions gave me a glimpse into what that was like. I learned a lot from the club, which made things a lot easier in some of my other classes- specifically my Sophomore Design lab.

Being in club exposed me to the basics of programming and things such as microcontrollers, so when it came time in the lab to use them, I was already familiar with it. The microcontrollers we used in class were different than the ones we used in the club, but if you understand how microcontrollers work (things like inputs/outputs and digital/analog signals) you can understand how to use any microcontroller. You just need to know the correct syntax of code. Having previous exposure to these things in the club made things so much easier. I was able to even use the club for my final project. When it came time to build my final project, I went to the president of the club with a proposition. In exchange for funding for the project, the club would keep it and use it for future demonstrations. He accepted, my professor loved my project and the club still uses the robot at the first meeting of every year.

But everything wasn’t always smooth sailing. The first year I joined the club, I helped build a robot called “Schildkröte” (turtle in German). When it came time for the competition, it completely failed. It did not move correctly at all and did not even qualify for the competition. As disappointing as this was, this did not discourage me from continuing to explore my interests on the path for my degree. I did end up having to take a break from the club due to becoming busy with school, but I would return to work on more projects in the following years. I was grateful for my time in the club, because it helped me realize that while I loved the challenge, programing was more of a side hobby and I would never want to do it for a living.

While I was able to learn a lot from the robotics club, it wasn’t until my internships that I really began to see what engineering was like. One internship, I was able to work on switches and buttons that you typically find in cars. My task was to find LEDs that matched the correct color and brightness that was requested by the company, being sure to take into consideration how the type of plastic the LED was in would affect the final output. I was grateful that I was not just doing secretary work like many other companies have interns do, as I was able to collaborate and interact with different departments to get the job done. This showed me what working in a team as an engineer was like, and how every field of engineering is integrated. Electrical engineers depend on mechanical ones. Mechanical ones depend on software, and so on and so forth. Having internships was such a great experience, as it provided me with the knowledge and experience that is required to enter the workforce.

From getting the first motor spinning in robotics club, to completing my final internship and finding my first job, I am grateful for every learning experience I faced. Going back, there is not a thing I would change, and I would do it all over again. Engineering has helped me develop a mindset that allows me to think differently and succeed in a career I love.

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