David Zlotnicki is studying electronics and computer engineering technology at Pennsylvania College of Technology.
Have you always been interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields?
I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to major in when I was in high school. Math wasn’t my strong suit, but I liked electronics, and computer classes were my favorite, so I figured I’d give that a try. Once I started applying math and science concepts to what I was building and testing in electronics labs, it became more interesting to me. I never thought I would be the one to take Calculus III in college, and looking back, I’m not sure why I even worried about math!
What is it about electronics that captured your attention?
Well, I guess you could say I’m easily entertained by flashy lights and moving things, and in high school, I learned a very basic understanding of electronics and robotics. I played around with a hobby Arduino board making LEDs light up. Everything we see today is electronic; I knew pursuing a degree in electronics would open a lot of job opportunities.
What attracted you to Penn College’s electronics and computer engineering technology major?
I looked at a variety of schools and majors, ranging from fieldwork associate degrees to desk job bachelor’s degrees. What drew me to Pennsylvania College of Technology, was the hands-on learning environment. Being a tactile learner, I wanted something that was intellectually challenging, but also allowed me to work with my hands. Penn College’s electronics and computer engineering technology degree provided just that. It’s the perfect combination of a tech school and liberal arts program that has a small class size, hands-on learning, and the college experience. That is allowing me to obtain my bachelor’s in electronics engineering and an associate’s degree in robotics automation.
What has been the most memorable moment of your STEM program?
The wired glove project. I was taking a robotics course for my robotics and automation curriculum, and microprocessor class for my electronics curriculum, and I needed a project for both. I wanted to try to create a cool looking project that encompassed both courses, so I decided to try to control a robotic arm with the microcontroller I was learning about. That led to my wired glove project.
I used movement sensors on a glove to move a robot arm when I moved or flexed my hand. It was a stimulating challenge testing all the skills I acquired from Penn College, and I was pretty pleased with my end result. Of course, I’m not completely done with it, I am still making additions and improvements. When I was presenting my project during an open house, a Penn College electronics alum became interested in my project. Along with offering helpful critiques and advise, he recommended I apply for an internship at QorTek (a developer and manufacturer of piezoelectronics and piezo actuation mechanisms). I not only got the internship, but a part-time job for the school year.
What is a typical day like in your STEM experience?
A typical day for me starts with hour-long theory classes starting at 8 a.m. where I learn the perfect rhythm for taking sips of coffee between note-taking. After lunch, I head back to the electronics building for my lab classes where my friends and I try to make our theory notes connect the dots with lab projects. Lab partners and collaboration are not usually required, but often recommended, and almost always beneficial. After class, I take a quick trip to the vending machine before going back to the lab to finish a project or study with my friends. On a good day, I wander back to my dorm with just enough time to play some video games before heading to bed.
What advice do you have for teens looking at STEM degrees and/or career paths?
STEM programs can be a lot of work. My success was driven by my interest. I’ve had my fair share of late nights, cramming to finish a lab. It takes time to find the right balance between your academic and social life. If you allow me to be cliché here for a minute: All the hard work really does pay off in the end. That and coffee keep me going at 2 a.m. Late nights and high-level classes might be intimidating (and they should be), but there are plenty of resources out there to help you. YouTube is your friend!
Also, when looking at colleges, ask about internships and job placements. Finding a college that has links to the local job market is important. That’s what helped me get where I am today.