It’s a Win-Win Scenario

After competing in the illustrious MEM Project Presentation Competition, not one but two students were selected as the victors. Keenan Smith and Malavika Kolagatla have proved themselves as skilled presenters and equipped for successful careers in engineering management. The competition, started by MEM director Julie Ivy in the Fall of 2022, is an exciting way for students to apply and demonstrate what they have learned from the program. Engineering management requires the skill to summarize and communicate information for people who may lack technical expertise, which the contestants must utilize in their presentations. As part of this competition, contestants present their projects to a panel of faculty judges and other students. 

That panel scores contestants using a 15-item assessment that rates various aspects of their presentations but overall answers the question: “Would you hire this person?” and for students: “Would you want to work on a team with this person?” The judges choose two students as Best Presentation (Smith) and Student’s Choice (Kolagatla) awards winners.

Winning the Best Presentation Award showed that the extensive efforts Smith put in paid off. “I put a lot of hard work into my capstone with many nights just trying to figure out the best way to present findings, or gather data, or debug my code, and for it to pay off with this result really does feel like a solid finish to my degree,” he reflected. The skills Smith has gained from the MEM Program have set him up for his next steps. “I wouldn’t be in the job I am now without the degree,” he shared. “I chose to pivot my career with this degree into one that is more focused on data analytics, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the flexibility of this degree to look for those courses and opportunities.” The flexibility of the MEM program is one of many benefits. When asked to advise students potentially pursuing the MEM program, Smith said, “Have a loose goal in mind when you apply for the program but don’t be afraid to pivot after a semester. This degree allows you to do that.” For Smith, the help and support of the faculty and students have greatly helped his success. “I would like to especially thank Dr. Brandon McConnell for his help and support throughout my entire degree process. He made sure I was taking classes to support my goals while also just being supportive and a genuinely good person to talk things through,” he confided. “I literally wouldn’t be where I am at without his help and support.”

Kolagatla’s Student’s Choice Award represented her hard work in and outside the program. “Receiving this award holds significant personal and professional meaning for me,” she reflected. “It is a tangible recognition of my effort and dedication in my co-op experience at NetApp. This award motivates me to strive for excellence in my future endeavors.” Being selected by her peers is something she does not take lightly. “The fact that my peers resonate with and acknowledge the value of my projects is incredibly gratifying,” she remarked. As a result of her work in the MEM program and her co-op, Kolagatla feels prepared and excited to begin her career in industry. “My MEM degree has been instrumental in equipping me with the technical and managerial skills highly relevant to the IT industry, where I completed my co-op,” she explained. “This co-op provided a platform to put theory into practice, allowing me to design products and hone my professional writing abilities. I am delighted that the courses I pursued have laid a strong groundwork for my career.” When asked to advise potential students, she said, “I’d say students should come as they are and let the program shape them into their chosen career.”

Both winners will receive a $50 Amazon gift card and a certificate of achievement signed by the College of Engineering Dean, Louis Martin-Vega. This competition challenges students to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios, and this semester’s competition was fierce.  “We would also like to acknowledge the efforts and contributions of all the participants in the competition,” reflected research assistant professor Brandon McConnell. “Each of you demonstrated creativity and commitment to your respective projects.” 

Congratulations, Keenan Smith and Malavika Kolagatla, on this incredible honor.