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Lightning sparks student’s interest in Electrical Engineering

Mikayla Trost works on electrical engineering project in a lab in the Kinsley Engineering Center.

It all started with a bolt of lightning. The summer before eighth grade, a devastating spark of electricity struck Mikayla Trost’s house, frying each and every circuit. The structure of her house was unharmed, but all the electronics plugged into an outlet were destroyed.

One by one, Mikayla and her dad went through the house, fixing each outlet and electronic. She pulled circuit boards — learning by taking things apart, switching around configurations, and soldering components. It was exhilarating, taking something that was broken and making it whole again. She was hooked.

More than a number

Mikayla knew she wanted to pursue Electrical Engineering in college. But she also knew she wanted to be more than just a number in a classroom. That’s why she chose the Electrical Engineering program at York College of Pennsylvania. Before she even enrolled, she was receiving regular emails from Dr. Kala Meah, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“They made me feel like I’d have a place here. They know my name, they want me to come here,” she says. That personalized attention has continued now that she’s a student. You can’t go down the hall without a professor saying ‘hi’ to you, she says. “It’s a nice little family.”

That small class size and personal attention is what allows for successful project-based hands-on learning. Just as she learned by doing when replacing electrical components with her dad in eighth grade, she’s now applying lessons from class to actual projects with her peers.

Solving the problem

A client with a disability can only lift his legs seven centimeters off the ground. The challenge for Mikayla and her Intro to Electrical Engineering classmates: develop a way for him to turn on a fan. They worked on the project in pairs — a lesson in itself. “One of the huge things in our class is group work and learning how to work with another person because, after all, that’s what engineering is,” Mikayla says.

They created a box that the client would put on his knee. A sensor in the box could read changes in elevation that, once it reached a certain level, would trigger the fan to turn on. It was a relatively simple project, but still, it was exciting for Mikayla to experience the thrill of taking something that needed a solution and creating that solution from scratch.

“I thought it was really cool seeing the finished product and knowing that we made everything from different components,” she says. Projects like this help her to better understand lessons from class. “You use those skills within the project, hands-on,” she says.

The next step

Mikayla applied her classroom knowledge again when she worked on a project influenced by another real-world problem. Professor Meah tasked his students with creating a light that could run for six hours and be dirt/water-resistant. To save battery power, the light needed to sense when the environment was dark in order to turn on. 

“It was a big challenge,” Mikayla says, “but it was exciting.” It touched on a personal goal of hers — to create sustainable energy solutions. She is applying to several renewable energy co-ops for next summer. Eventually, she hopes to go beyond the current technology, to find new methods of sustainability. For now, she’ll continue to grow and learn by doing surrounded by a small number of peers and professors who know her name.
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