Harwell selected as 2012 Plexus engineering intern

John Harwell, an electrical and computer engineering student from Forest Lake, Minnesota, has been selected as the Plexus Corporation’s 2012 International Engineering Intern, recruited through the International Internship Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Harwell began his internship on May 21, working at Plexus headquarters in Neenah, Wisconsin. He will work the Plexus facility in Penang, Malaysia from June 15 to August 18.

Before he began his internship, Harwell answered a few questions:

Q: Describe your interests and notable personal experiences.

Harwell: While my interests have expanded and become in some ways more eccentric as I have progressed through college, they are an integral part of what makes me “me”. From an early age, I have always been fascinated with electronics, and have enjoyed taking random things apart and putting them back together, as is common with many engineers, particularly those that end up in the ECE department. My recent efforts in this area have been much more fruitful than my earlier ones, as nowadays when I take something apart, it is usually to fix it (although sometimes out of curiosity), and when I put it back together it works, instead of crackling, fizzling or smoking ominously.

I work as an IT technician at the Waisman Brain-Imaging Center on campus, and have spent many glad hours there troubleshooting various computer problems. If there is one thing that truly separates engineering from other disciplines, it is the fact that engineers relish, as I do, the challenge of solving new, confusing and/or challenging problems.

In addition, over last summer and this past winter break, I built and tested two separate versions of a small homemade Tesla coil. A Tesla coil, to put it simply, is an electromagnetic device that can be powered from an ordinary wall socket (at 120 volts) and step up that voltage to much higher levels (mine ran at about 250,000 volts) to generate miniature lightning strikes, called “streamers” by other Tesla coil enthusiasts. I built these two devices because I thought they were cool, and the concept of being able to generate and control lightning intrigued me—not for a class or anything like that.

Outside of cerebral endeavors, I also train regularly for an Iron Triathlon which I hope to complete one day, and have completed several smaller triathlons to this end. I am also quite an avid audiophile and guitarist, and play every chance I get.

Q: What attracted you to this internship?

Harwell: I was initially attracted to this internship because of the nature of the company that I would be interning with, Plexus Corp. They were a company that did a lot of work in embedded systems design and related areas, so naturally I was very interested in the internships that they offered. I was a little hesitant at first when I saw that the only internship that they had posted for summer 2012 was an international one, but I got over that when I realized what a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that this would be.

Q: What are your current personal/career goals?

Harwell: My current career goals really aren’t all that definite at this point, as I still have a year to go before I will graduate, but I do have some idea of where I want to be after I graduate. It is my hope that upon graduation that I will be able to get a job at an electronics company, doing work in embedded systems design. While I really don’t have any ideas what this might entail at the moment, I do know that embedded systems are what I am truly interested in. I definitely never see myself as a “project manager”—anything like that is reminiscent of business corporations, which has never been something I wanted to get involved in.

Q: What previous international experience, if any, have you had?

Harwell: The only international experience that I have previously had has been when I went on a mission trip to Mexico a few years ago, which just as with internship I was very apprehensive about initially—but I ended up have a great time and a great experience while I was there.

Q: What would you like to gain from this experience?

Harwell: This summer, I hope to enhance my professional and interpersonal skills through my exposure to a different cultural workplace; learning how to adapt and be successful in environments where the values, motivations and expectations of employees are much different than my own.

Kerry G. Hill