Senior Design: More Than A Class

By: Kirsi

Kirsi holding the field operator's sensor.
Me holding the field operator’s sensor.
Pointing a stealth camera at a circuit.

I didn’t want to take senior design (SD). I tried to get out of it two times. I have completed plenty of technical paid internships since high school. Why do I have to take SD? What do I possibly have left to learn?

Image: programming code on a computer screen
Text: Skills learned in senior design

With a closed mind opened, I was ecstatic to find SD was exactly what I hoped college would be when I applied six years ago. Our SD team competed in the Air Force Research Lab Design Challenge. We built a two user system that helps first responders navigate Amber Alerts, rubble searches, and active threats. Our system can identify objects of interest through cinder block, drywall, multiple rooms, and car trunks. You can watch a demo video of the system, all built at UMD by students! SD has been a huge opportunity for me to grow my soft and technical skills.

Display screen of the system showing data from four sensors
Display of the system showing data from our four sensors.

What You Will Learn In Senior Design:
A major experience missed by only interning in the professional world is being challenged improve communication techniques. In an internship you learn the ropes of reporting achievements, asking questions, and forming a consistent path of communication. This is more procedure than an art. Management, mentors, and peers who you interface with at internships are usually seasoned leaders and communicators. Student peers? Sometimes, not so much. To no fault of their own. Raw inexperience. This required compensation I did not expect and revealed major communication flaws I have.

Being a leader means self-drive, delegating tasks to others, and people wrangling. Part of leadership on a SD team simply comes from being there for many hours, being there when things happened, something that couldn’t be scheduled. Because of my time commitment, people asked me details about the project and next steps. Ultimately, I started delegating and prioritizing tasks due to this informal leadership promotion.

It was a bit challenging to look past how someone was communicating, shed emotional charge, and focus on what the concern or question was. I had to learn to look past communication styles, meet peers where they were, and come up with a way to move forward. This required me to make sure my concerns or points did not come with any baggage.

Team giving a presenation
Our team presenting at the competition.

What is the point of making something cool if its importance can’t be described? I had to learn how to communicate our accomplishments to operators who may use our equipment in the future. I looked over and presented materials and made sure we were using understandable language.

The system we were building was for first responders, therefore, we met with law enforcement from the community for design and usability feedback. We met with police officers to attend SWAT training to understand how they would be responding to threats and what their priorities were. Throughout development, we invited first responders to our labs, put our devices in their hands to use, and asked for feedback on how to make things more user friendly. Additionally, I met with a graphic design major to make sure that data was clearly presented to operators.

I am excited to report to that our SD team won the competition bringing the gold home to UMD! I am honored to be a part of this team and thankful to have such a positive experience! I highly recommend making the most of your senior design!

Of Possible Interest:
Building Your Resume – all our blog posts on the topic
Boost Your Career in College – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Source: Kirsi & Unsplash | Markus Spiske

Be Genuine

By: Kirsi

Stories about students fraudulently receiving job offers and college acceptances by lying on resumes and applications frequent news media. Extreme efforts taken to fake qualifications include: forging a high school diploma, cheating on the ACT, lying about work experience, and photo-shopping a picture to make it look like they played sports. Although these attempts are extraordinary and comical, there are more nuanced ways to present yourself un-authentically. These white lies include: pursuing a career path that does not match your interests, insincerely schmoozing to recruiters, and fudging interests to match that of recruiters. The best thing you can do for the highest long-term reward is to be genuine.

Image: brick wall painted white on left side and blue on right side
Text: Be Genuine

What being genuine can look like:

  • Pursuing a career for the right reasons, goals beyond money, other people’s opinions, and chasing fads.
    For example, studying to be a doctor because you are inspired by nonprofits that provide health services to conflict zones. 

  • Declining an otherwise achievable opportunity due to your conscious, ethics, or beliefs.
    For example, you may identify how a recruiter wants you to answer a particular interview question and instead you answer truthfully upholding your honesty and integrity.

  • Avoiding low hanging fruit at networking events.
    For example, picking more unique topics of conversation that reflect your interests (which can still be company and career related). Overused points of conversation include; sports, weather, breaking news about the company, and other trite chat.

  • Researching career opportunities beyond what is cookie cutter for your area of study.
    For example, if you are a STEM major but find film making super interesting, there may be opportunities to marry your skills and interest with a little guidance (talk to a career counselor).

Sometimes being genuine will feel like a short-term loss. Feeling confident that you made decisions based on what is right and what is important to you will be a unmatchable reward in the future.

Of Possible Interest:
On the Job – all our blog posts on the topic
Advice From the Real World

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Find Your Fit

By: Kirsi

If you ask a career counselor how to pick the right major, internship, or career path you will likely be directed to assessments. These are quizzes that help you determine your strengths, values, and interests. Career & Internship Services offers online reading about how to seek your fit. But what does it look like once you have found your fit?

Image: Birds sitting on powerlines, one bird flying around
Text: Find your fit

Looks Like
Signs that you have found your fit include that you…

  • lose track of time being absorbed in a project for the class in your major or task at work.
  • experience positive or productive dreams about working on that project or related to your classes or work.
  • follow news and social media about the field you study or work in.
  • feel engaged in your classes or work.
  • imagine yourself in possible roles in your future career.

Doesn’t Look Like
Signs that you have not found your fit include that you…

  • are challenged with starting homework or tasks in your field.
  • dread going to work or classes.
  • wouldn’t consider working on a project or participate in an activity in your field during your free time.
  • find tasks you complete for class or work to be unfulfilling. 
  • avoid thinking about the field you study or work in.


  • Finding your fit doesn’t mean you love everything about your classes, work, and field all the time.
  • The potential of the fulfillment your field offers may not be apparent until taking higher level courses, after settling into work, or following further research.
  • Changing your trajectory does not make you a failure! It highlights flexibility and honesty with yourself.

If you ever need help finding your fit, stop by 22 Solon Campus Center and schedule an appointment with a career counselor.

Good Luck! 

Of Possible Interest:
Choosing a Major, Career Planning – all our blog posts on these topics
Boost Your Career in College, Turn Your Major into a Career – our Pinterest boards filled with articles & resources

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Danielle MacInnes

After the Job Fair

By: Kirsi

You survived the job fair. Collected some business cards, mastered your elevator speech, and acquired some logo plastered swag. What now? Moving forward seems kind of ambiguous unless you locked down a career opportunity or interview that day. Here are some actions you can take following the fair to lock down an offer and solidify your network:

Text: What to do after the job fair

Job fairs are a great place to learn about positions companies desire to fill and positions you can apply for online. Apply promptly online while your resume is still near the top of recruiters stack and your name is fresh in their minds. It is acceptable to mention the interaction with the recruiter in a cover letter or if the application asks if you have talked to anyone.

Follow Up
Write a follow-up letter to recruiters you talked to at the fair. Here are some examples of phrases that could be used in the letter: “Thanks for talking to me the other day about your work at XYZ,” “Writing to let you know I applied online for XYZ position. Look forward to hearing from you!,” “Thank you for sharing details about your internship program. It sounds rewarding and fun. Hope to be a part of your team soon.” It is appropriate to send these in an email.

Get Connected
Recruiters typically have active profiles on social media either representing themselves or the company. Make sure your social media account is professional and appropriate and connect with them. LinkedIn is an obvious platform to connect with recruiters on. Past Peer Educator David has an excellent example of an effective LinkedIn profile. If your profile, presence, and posts are professional you could connect on more casual platforms like Twitter. @kfacciol, a Mission Control flight controller, has a great professional Twitter account.

General advice to follow when following up with job fairs is “ask and you shall receive.” Those who make the effort to reach out and stay connected will be rewarded.

Of Possible Interest:
Job Fairs; Internships; Job Search – all the blog posts we’ve written on these topics
What Now?! A Simple Guide for After the Job Fair

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Brandi Redd

Internship Relocation Challenges: Part 3 Mentally Relocating

By: Kirsi

Keeping busy the first few days relocating is easy while warming up to a new living place, co-workers, and tasks at work. It seems like all the boxes are checked…

I have a place to sleep at night.
I planned a work commute.
I’m assigned interesting challenges at work.
I have met my co-workers, management, and fellow interns.
I attend events outside of work like movie nights and laser tag.

…but it still seems more like surviving instead of thriving. It may even feel robotic. What is missing is mental relocation.

blue and red toy robot; text: internship relocation challenges, mentally relocating

Transitioning Into Work Mode 
One of the toughest hurdles to overcome in order to make the most of your internship is transitioning into thinking like an employee. Thinking like an employee is hard if it’s the first time. Although it is a different mode of thinking from past experiences – such as academics, military, sports team, or for yourself – skills gained from past experiences can help you. Now that you are interning for an organization, the organization, department, and teams’ goals become your goals. Instead of fretting about solely personal performance, the performance of a business, product, service, or team is an additional responsibility. New thought processes that may arise include…

  • What can I learn from other employees working on the same project?
  • I have found a problem but how can I propose a way to fix it?
  • What has not worked in the past?
  • How do I want to develop professionally?
road with mountains surrounding it.

Embracing Temporal Independence
After the workday is finished, it’s time for school work…. wait, there is no school work? When you clock out there is no take home work? What is there to do?! Now that evening hours are cleared out, there are opportunities for how to spend your time. This may seem daunting if your usual summer/ school break friends aren’t around to goof around with and no school assignments to tackle. Filling your time does not necessarily mean filling it with people and socializing. There are many things to do with allocated time…

  • Try a new hobby you have not had time to dig into
  • Pick up a new sport/ esport
  • Explore the new location
  • Hangout with fellow interns 
  • Chill at home
  • Host a board game night
  • Try new restaurants with fellow interns
  • Take a day trip to a city nearby
back of woman walking with umbrella on a rainy street

Managing Existential Dread
After harnessing a new mode of thinking as an intern and finding new things to do with un-allocated time, there may be some intermittent moments of doubt. When you are turning in for the night, the lights are out, the door is locked, and suddenly a new place can feel pretty scary. Trying something new on your own can be intimidating too. It’s not uncommon to lose confidence, question if you like what you are working on, and fear transitioning into life beyond college. Call a family member, friend, or someone you trust and share your worries with them. Additionally, you can contact counselors at the career center for big picture career questions like, “I have learned so much at this internship but I don’t know what to do next”, “I don’t know if I like what I am doing”, “I don’t like my major after having this internship, what do I do now?”. Career counselors’ goals are to help you take actions that will help you feel confident about your future.

Physically, socially, and mentally relocating, whew, didn’t realize there was so much involved in an internship after accepting an offer! Don’t let a new opportunity intimidate you. There is support all around and people who want you to be successful. Good luck!

Of Possible Interest: 
Internship Relocation Challenges: Part 1 Physically Relocating
Internship Relocation Challenges: Part 2 Socially Relocating
Internships – all our blog posts on the topic
Internships – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Sources: Unsplash | Rock’n Roll Monkey, Natalie Rhea Riggs, Patrick Tomasso

Internship Relocation Challenges: Part 2 Socially Relocating

By: Kirsi

Challenges relating to physically relocating for an internship were explored in my last blog post – finding the internship, locking down a place to stay, and navigating a new city. Sounds like a pretty concrete problem right? Exploring these tangible physical aspects addresses the bare necessities of relocating, but what about your social life? Netflix binge-watching, experimenting with Pinterest recipes, and re-re-rereading the Harry Potter series sounds appealing for a bit, but lonely after a while. How will I connect with people in and outside the workplace?

Person gazing up at night sky; text: internship relocation challenges socially relocating

Meeting Co-Workers
Start by getting acquainted with your mentor, boss, and office mates. Office mates are a one-stop shop for getting questions answered. Everything from questions about your project to “how do I connect to the printer?” Some teams may provide a handbook or on-boarding checklist with suggestions of who to meet first. Team leads may encourage to meet team leads from different disciplines. Your team may be big/small, multi-discipline/hyper-focused, or compromised of professionals from many different walks of life. Some teams request interns to give an introductory presentation sharing your major, where you study, and what you want to learn. Get comfortable with reaching out to others and saying hello!

Group of people on motorized cart tour large warehouse building.
by Kirsi, touring NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility

Meeting New Interns
You are likely not the only one relocating for an internship. Depending on your employer’s size, there may be a handful, dozen, or dozens of interns eager to meet new people. A great time to meet fellow interns is during the lunch hour. Most employers have a common dining area where employees buy lunch or eat packed lunch. There may be interns from outside your team and discipline to chat with and form an “intern table.”

Highly developed intern programs leaders coordinate networking events for interns to participate in, such as tours around the work site, group lunches on and off-site, and lectures from experienced professionals. Depending on how organized the interns themselves are, interns may schedule events outside of what program leaders coordinate. I have personally participated in things like laser tag, weekend trips to nearby cities, video conferencing with interns from the employer’s other locations, and fancy dinners. A week without three meals out was rare! Some intern groups are so organized that student made committees and bylaws are handed down from intern class to intern class.

Person sitting at desk watching 3 computer monitors
by Kirsi, video conferencing with interns from other locations

Professional Networking
Many employers offer professional development opportunities such as workshops, “brown bags,” volunteer/outreach groups, and meet and greet events with management. A brown bag is a more informal presentation when a topic is talked about over lunch. Sometimes during brown bags, a talk is given by a co-worker, someone from industry, or a video lecture is watched.

group of students with laptops listening to a presentation
by Kirsi, hosting a “How to LinkedIn” workshop

Co-workers are likely working on things related to what you are interested in pursuing professionally. Interview managers, group leads, and new hires around the organization. Ask about why they chose that company, why they are interested in their work, and what are they most proud of working on. Don’t be afraid to ask management about their work or to shadow them for a day.

If you would like more advice on relocating for an internship schedule an appointment with one of our career counselors.

Be bold, be friendly, and meet new people!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Sources: Unsplash | Greg Rakozy & Kirsi

Internship Relocation Challenges: Part 1 Physically Relocating

By: Kirsi

So you want an internship. What does an internship look like to you?

Decent paychecks over the summer, gaining more experience in your major, or adding a new line to your resume?

Imagine your internship more tangibly.

In what city is this internship? What does your day to day work involve? Who will you be working with? What is the company culture? What does your day look like after the close of business?

In my upcoming blog posts, I am going to talk about solutions to the challenge of relocating for an internship. I will explore three kinds of relocating: physically, mentally, and socially.

Paper map, computer, camera - Internship Relocation Challenges Physically Relocating

Part 1: Physically Relocating
A major barrier students face is realizing you can intern with anyone you want anywhere in the world you want. (If you negotiated with Elon Musk to have a suborbital internship I guess you could do that, too.) You are not limited by interning in the city you attend college in or town your family lives in.

caucasian male holding video camera on shoulder

Enjoy using Instagram and love what they are all about? Apply for their 12-week Business, Marketing, or Tech Student internship program for the summer in Menlo Park, California.

Think nutella is super tasty and think food science is interesting? Apply for a summer Supply Chain internship with Ferrero in their US office or abroad.

In awe of watching how Sunday Night football‘s camera crew captures the tide turning touchdown from every angle? Apply for an eight-nine week NFL Films or Media internship.

The point is, whatever you are passionate about, there is an internship out there for you. Transform your passion into a profession.

You are an adult, now go out and do what you want!

disney castle

Where You Sleep
So you have locked down your dream internship. If your opportunity is in your home or college town, then housing may already be sorted out. However, if your internship is in lands unfamiliar, then you may have some legwork ahead of you.

Many employers offer travel and housing stipends. You may negotiate this amount while deciding who you are going to intern with. If there is simply no housing pay to offer, such as if the position was a US Government Civil Servant Pathways Internship, the employer will likely have suggestions on where to live. Due to liability rules, the employer may not be legally allowed to “recommend” housing, but they may have a suggestion list. Connecting with past interns on LinkedIn may lead to advice on safe and affordable places to live. For an internship with Rockwell Automation, they offered me a housing stipend and had a relationship with an apartment complex to offer shorter rent agreements for summer interns.

Some employers view housing as part of the experience and a way to connect with fellow interns. There may be a specific housing complex employers provide where all the interns stay. Disney Internship & Programs place their Walt Disney World Florida students in various housing communities. Disney interns have blogged about their housing experiences and have even shared Instagram-worthy spots around Disney Housing.

hand holding a smart phone

Navigating A New Place
Once you have a place to crash and your job site arranged, a logical task is to plan your morning commute. How early do I have to wake up? Do I take the highways, city roads, or toll roads? Is there public transportation or can I carpool? When I planned my commute for an internship in Houston I hopped on Google Maps, jumped into Street View and “drove to work” by clicking my way down streets.

Other landmarks to look for when familiarizing yourself with your new neighborhood include:

  • Grocery Stores
  • Hospital/ Urgent Care
  • Gas Stations
  • Police Station
  • Favorite Fast Food Spots

By being a U of MN system student you have access to a resource called GoinGlobal. You can look up details and characteristics about your new city in the states or abroad. Log onto GoldPASS powered by Handshake >> click on Career Center >> click on Resources >> select GoinGlobal

Good luck with your relocation! Embrace the change and enjoy the new adventure!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Kirsi’s other posts

Photo Sources: Unsplash Raw Pixel | Jakob Owens | Gui Avelar | Praveesh Palakeel