The Journey From Student to Professional

As a systems engineering intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in summer 2021, Seth Graham worked on code to analyze flight trajectories for a proposed mission called Mars Sample Return.

The mission aims to send a robot to Mars to gather samples of all types and then bring them back to Earth for analysis. 

“Working on what I consider to be one of the apex missions for spaceflight was so exciting,” says Seth. “It was actually a dream come true.”

Seth transferred to Illinois Institute of Technology in 2019 after talking with his supervisor, an Illinois Tech alum, while interning at Baxter International Inc.

“I wanted to be like him. I wanted that same technical acumen. So I ultimately came here, and the transfer scholarship made it way easier,” says Seth, a George J. Kacek Scholar. 

After starting at a Big Ten university, Seth had already been considering transferring somewhere where he wouldn’t be just one of hundreds or even thousands of students in a class. 

He says, “The smaller size [at Illinois Tech] made it a lot easier to talk to my professors and get the information that I needed to succeed. I just walk up into my professors’ offices all the time and strike up conversations. I could not do that in my old school.”

In 2020 Seth interned at Honeywell, where he worked on a military-related project in advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, and design. With four internships under his belt, Seth knows the ins and outs of how those experiences can help you succeed.  

“Internships are invaluable to your understanding of what you do like and what you don’t like. They teach you about the corporate world. I definitely think that no matter where you intern, there’s something to be gained, whether it is monetary, experience-wise, wisdom-wise, or just connections,” says Seth. “It’s just an amazing thing that I feel like nobody should pass up.”

He’s come to understand that finding your career path is much more than discovering which university courses you enjoy; it’s also about finding the right work culture fit. 

“​​Every internship I’ve ever done, I’ve always joined the Black resource group,” says Seth. “I want to know how they’re doing, what do they do within their groups, and how does the company support their Black employees?”

At Illinois Tech, Seth has volunteered for a range of chapter and regional leadership roles in the National Society of Black Engineers, including serving as chapter president. 

“We’re truly underrepresented in the world of STEM, so we need a lot of support,” says Seth. “The professional world can make it very hard to maintain your individuality and your culture and so any way that I can help out, I find great happiness in that.”

He has served on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering, and is Vice President of Black Student Union. 

“Illinois Tech’s opportunities for leadership have helped me grow in a way that’s not technical,” says Seth.

Now approaching graduation, Seth says his internships and leadership experience have made him more competitive in job interviews.

“When people talk to me, they’re talking to a professional,” says Seth. “Internships help you ask the right questions and make you more career-oriented.” 

His hard work and focus have paid off: Seth has already accepted a job offer at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory working as full-time associate professional staff. 

“I’ll be working on navigation algorithms to improve the performance of special defense systems. I’m extremely excited to work on this since I’ve come to love algorithms and data-driven techniques during my graduate coursework here at Illinois Tech,” says Seth. “As the world becomes more autonomous and connected, so does the demand for this type of skillset. Illinois Tech has prepared me very well to make myself stand out in such a setting, and I’m excited to see what the future holds!”

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