Students tour the world of Silicon Valley for ECE Expeditions
The 6th ECE Expeditions trip took students to the heart of Silicon Valley, where they toured a variety of companies from small startups to renowned multinational corporations.
“ECE Expeditions was one of the most meaningful things I’ve done in my college career so far,” said Carol Zhang, a sophomore in EE. “Alongside seeing yourself in a future professional environment, it is really, really worth it to meet people who are also in the department who have similar interests to you.”
Students visited seven companies over the course of two and a half days during Spring Break. Each of these companies featured U-M alums, who gave advice and spoke about their current careers. Students also got the opportunity to get to know other ECE students, particularly those in different degree programs.
Below is a summary of each company visit.
Agilent Technologies is a spin-off of the Hewlett-Packard Company. They provide laboratories worldwide with instruments, services, consumables, applications, and expertise for a variety of life science research.
Agilent treated the students to breakfast and lunch, provided an overview of their history and current company goals – emphasizing how they support research that aims to cure cancer – and gave students tours of their labs. Students were able to talk with several U-M alums, and ECE alum Jack Wenstrad, who serves as the Director of University Relations and External Research, helped organize the visit.
“My favorite part of the visit was getting to see the history room that they had there,” said Daniel, a senior in EE. “I think it, along with other companies, gave me an idea of what’s going on in the industry.”
eLab Ventures is a Venture Capital fund originally started in Michigan. Two current Managing Directors, both U-M alums, welcomed the students to their main offices. They described what a Venture Capital fund is and how it can impact other types of career aspirations, such as launching a startup.
“It was a good opportunity to see the VC side of things,” said Umur Gokmen, a first-year master’s student studying optics. “It was cool to see that there isn’t just a single career path of electrical and computer engineering.”
Synaptics is a technology company that focuses on improving the human-technology interface. The name comes from synapse and electronics, a nod to the company’s goal of blending human neural networks with technology. They work to enhance the user experience.
Synaptics featured a large cohort of U-M graduates, including Rick Bergman, the President and CEO, who took the time to speak with students in the morning. Bergman spoke about the company’s goals and culture, but he also took time to offer career and academic advice, and he detailed his own journey from research to leadership. Other ECE alums included Matthew Bright, Ram Karakala, and Matthew Nord, the latter of whom greeted the students with a booming rendition of “Hail! to the Victors!”
After a quick tour of the demo room where students got to play with large, advanced touch screens and other technology, Synaptics presented several of their researchers who spoke about their work and career path. Several panelists also provided demos of their work, and spoke with students one-on-one after the session.
“I thought it was really cool meeting with the U-M alumni there,” said Anthony Wohlfeil, a junior in CE, “especially hearing from the CEO, how he came from ECE at U-M. It was really awesome.”
KLA is a global capital equipment company that supplies the semiconductor industry and related nanoelectronics with process control and yield management systems. ECE alum, Rick Wallace, serves as the chief executive officer and president.
KLA had several presenters talk about the company’s vision for and contribution to autonomous cars, robotics, space exploration, the cloud, augmented and virtual realities, and the Internet of Things. Wallace then spoke to the students for nearly an hour and answered questions regarding his own experiences and goals as an engineer. He emphasized the strength of U-M engineers and the opportunities at KLA for students of all degree levels.
John McLaughlin, a Senior Director and Ann Arbor Site Leader, spoke in detail about the new R&D facility KLA is building in Ann Arbor, as well as the opportunities that it will bring to U-M students.
Students were also treated to a tour of the site, including an in-depth tour of the clean room.
“A really great thing about hearing from an alum, especially the alum who is the CEO or a really a high position manager, is that they can give us a really great firsthand experience about how to use the resources at U-M to succeed,” said Ziyang Ji, a sophomore in CE. “I didn’t even know about KLA before, but I really liked this company, and after that visit I applied for summer internship there.”
NXP Semiconductors focuses on developing secure connectivity solutions for embedded applications to protect privacy and to improve the safety of a digitally smarter world.
After a lunchtime presentation that included information about the kind of work they do to enhance the security of smartphones, students were taken into the workspace where they met an engineer who showed them his current project on enhancing USB security. The final presentation featured a device that they use to demonstrate to companies the other kinds of products that they make.
“They involve a lot of different disciplines in their projects, leveraging both the software side of things and the hardware side of things,” said Yueying Li, a senior in CE. “It inspired me to also understand both the high-level stuff and low-level stuff.”
Matrix Industries is a start-up co-founded by Akram Boukai at U-M. Boukai was an Associate Professor of Material Science Engineering at U-M when his group made a breakthrough in the manufacture of silicon thermoelectrics that led to the founding of Matrix Industries.
Boukai greeted students with an interactive Q&A, where he spoke about the history of the company and the technology they’ve developed while giving advice for how students may launch their own startup. He emphasized the resources at U-M that can help students get funding, support, and entrepreneurial training. He also discussed his reasons for leaving academia and the pros and cons of pursuing a career in industry.
Boukai also showcased several inventions, such as a watch that is powered by body heat and a thermoelectric cooler capable of creating popsicles and cooling drinks. Students got involved in a demonstration of the later, walking away with chilled water bottles.
“It inspired me a lot,” said Yuguo Sheng, a junior in EE. “I took entrepreneurship classes before, but no case study is match for kind of experience you get when you actually go into a start-up and listen to the story from the founder. Doing a start-up wasn’t my choice before, but now I’m thinking about it.”
The final company visit was Intel, the large multinational corporation that aims to help deliver new applications and services, immersive media experiences, and AI at the network edge.
ECE alum Navin Shenoy is the executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel Corporation, and he leads the worldwide organization that develops the company’s data-centric businesses, including servers, network, storage, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things and Intel® field programmable gate arrays. Shenoy spent nearly an hour with the students, taking the time to talk about his favorite experiences at U-M and classes that helped him. He also spoke about the current trends in technology and skills that will be important for future engineers to possess, specifically the ability of engineers to be multidisciplinary.
Students were then treated to a panel of engineers, which included two recent U-M alums, Tiantian Zhao and Xin Wang. ECE alum Floy Campbell, a platform engineering manager, also spoke to the students, encouraging them to get outside of their engineering bubble and take advantage of all that U-M has to offer.
Intel’s engineering panel featured three women (all U-M ECE alums), and they spoke about their current research and how their experiences at U-M prepared them for Intel, as well as Intel’s commitment to diversity and representation. They explained that diverse perspectives improve their innovation and ability to serve a greater percentage of the world. In October 2018, Intel announced that it met its goals of full representation of women and underrepresented minorities.
“Intel’s panel of women was really inspiring for me, because Silicon Valley has this male dominated culture,” said Anusha, a second year master’s student studying machine learning. “Intel has taken a lot steps to overcome that and have equal representation, and you could see the change.”