April 25, 2005
Nicholas Rubi may only be a sophomore in ECE, but he has already blasted off to make a big impact in the Carnegie Mellon community. As one of the first winners of the ATK-Nick G. Vlahakis Scholarship, a member of the Red Team robot racers, and an officer in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), he has already interned at Alliant Techsystems' Rocket Center and is aiming for a career in the aerospace and defense industry. Join Rubi as he talks about his award, ECE, and his future plans:
I'm from Aliso Viejo, CA. That's in south Orange County and about 5 minutes from Laguna Beach (as in the show on MTV).
What has impressed me most about the scholarship is Mr. Vlahakis' personal interest in his recipients. He's contacted each of us personally and made himself available for career advice or other questions we may have. As Chief Operating Officer of a major company [ATK] and an engineer, he's gained a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience. I've learned a lot from him in the year that I've known him.
When I was really young I used to watch a lot of Star Trek and the technology on that show really impressed me. Engineering seemed like the best place to be to bring about those kinds of advances. Then, around fourth grade, my family bought its first computer which was a lot of fun. Around middle school I was actively programming small games in C++ and hoping to become the next Bill Gates. I almost applied with Computer Science as my major, but ultimately decided that the exposure to different disciplines, as well as the availability of Computer Science courses if I wanted them, made the Electrical and Computer Engineering major more attractive.
Finishing the robot for 18-100 [Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering] with my partner was pretty cool because we worked on it for so long in the lab and its completion demonstrated the knowledge we gained. It was the first physically complete "fruit of my ECE labors."
I have lots of friends who have graduated as electrical engineers who have never touched a soldering iron or done much else besides read and solve equations out of a book. I wanted a more "hands on" approach that would teach me the book stuff as well as give me the ability and experience to make circuit boards, robots, and programs, right out of college. Also, I compared research opportunities and Carnegie Mellon seemed to have a more interesting program and be more willing to involve undergraduate students than other schools I compared them to.
Right now my favorite course is 18-396, Signals and Systems, with Professor Richard Stern. In that class we've really laid the foundation for all kinds of signal processing and it's tremendously useful. Already I'm using what we learn for the Red Team and will probably use it for my internship this summer. Plus, Professor Stern is a really nice guy and infinitely knowledgeable about anything signals related.
I've only recently joined the Red Team but I wish I did it sooner. It is a great outlet for using what we've learned in class to make a big project that everyone can be proud of. Also, I think it does an excellent job of promoting teamwork and collaboration between disciplines. For instance, I've learned a ton about mechanical engineering, power systems, and radars. With what I've learned about other disciplines through the Red Team, I feel like I'll be better prepared to see the big picture integration of systems and one day be a better engineer.
I'm a member of SHPE and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE). I went to the Lockheed Martin STARS Institute Leadership Retreat freshman year as one of the officers of the SHPE. That was mostly concerned with team work skills, though it was a good place to learn about the defense industry.
Last summer I worked for ATK at Rocket Center, West Virginia. My main duty was making a tester for some missile circuit boards using CAD tools, soldering irons, etc. By far the coolest part, though, was testing the missiles and explosives there. It was very impressive to see firsthand the power they have, hear the booms, and feel the ground shake. Next summer I'm working for the Guidance, Navigation, and Control team in Woodland Hills, CA.
I'm hoping to get into the Integrated M.S./B.S. (IMB) degree program and stay a 5th year for a Master's degree. After that I'm hoping to work in the aerospace/defense industry for someone like ATK, ideally as a GNC Engineer.