Mikell Taylor

Bellevue Hill, NSW, AU
Field of Work 
Robotics
Company 
Bluefin Robotics
Job Title or "Student" 
Systems Engineer
Education 
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
Degree 
BS Electrical and Computer Engineering
Education Level 
Bachelors
Profile Biography 
I always loved science and math, and was pretty sure I wanted to be an astronaut, but it wasn't until I joined a FIRST Robotics team my junior year of high school that I understood what engineering really was. It was also then that robotics became my passion.

I grew up in Ohio but knew that when I finished high school, I'd head to one coast or the other to explore a new part of the country. I ended up attending Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, a new engineering college near Boston that was literally just starting up -- I entered in their very first freshman class. Though I was accepted to many other more traditional engineering schools, Olin seemed like an incredible chance to do something new and exciting with a group of fun, smart people. Sure enough, Olin was a blast. In addition to getting my bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering, I basically got to work in a start-up environment. On day one, most of our campus was still under construction and our curriculum wasn't even drafted beyond sophomore year. By the time we graduated, the fantastic group of students and faculty at the school had worked together to design, test out, and implement the four-year curriculum, the study abroad program, student life and government, accreditation standards... the whole nine yards.

I had internships throughout college at an investment bank, a startup company designing solar powered trash compactors, and a newly established NASA robotics program. Each of these gave me a chance to learn skills we didn't have time for in the classroom, plus a chance to network with professionals in a few different fields. This came in handy when I started my post-graduation job search. I originally planned to go to grad school, but wasn't accepted to the only school I applied to. But this worked out great! By coincidence, I had lunch one day with the president and a director of a small robotics company in Boston, and after talking to them and sending over my resume, I had a job offer a week later. By that point I had found two other offers as well, but this one seemed the most exciting: building underwater robots, going out on boats, and getting to travel around the world.

I have worked for Bluefin for most of the eight years since I graduated, moving through different departments into my current position as a Systems Engineer. This basically means I'm the technical manager for our projects. We build underwater robots for the US Navy, other countries' navies, scientists, oil and gas companies, and even the occasional treasure hunter looking for shipwrecks. I left Bluefin for one year to try out a newly established robotics startup in Boston, which was working on designing a new generation of manufacturing robots. But, while the technology and company were awesome, the job wasn't quite what I was looking for so I returned to Bluefin.

Throughout all of this I've remained involved with FIRST, the program that originally got me so excited about engineering and robotics. I mentored an inner-city high school team in Boston during college, then joined the planning committee that started the Boston Regional competition. For several years I was the president of that committee, and I led all the organizational efforts for the event each year.

What do I do for fun? Between my work with users around the world, and the opportunity for my husband and me to live in the UK and Australia, I've gotten to do some really exciting travel. I also love reading in my free time; I always have my Kindle with me! Another thing I really enjoy is cooking; after years of making nothing but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I learned a bit about cooking and now I have fun trying to imitate dishes I eat in restaurants and learning to use nifty kitchen gadgets. Working on a project you can eat is pretty great.

There are a couple of bits of advice I'd offer anyone thinking about going into a STEM field, specifically in engineering.

First off -- I've talked to high school students who are really interested in engineering but are afraid to "limit" themselves because they still love reading, writing, art, drama, foreign languages, poetry, business, law, whatever. And indeed, the notoriously intense engineering curricula throughout the US's university system can make it hard to take other coursework that doesn't directly contribute to your major. But there are a lot of programs that not only encourage this, they require it! The engineering degrees at places like Olin College, Harvey Mudd, Case Western Reserve, and many others require that a significant portion of your coursework be in the arts and humanities. Some will even let you "minor" in one of those subjects. There are plenty of ways to keep up on your non-engineering interests while earning an engineering degree, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Second -- other people I talk to are afraid that an engineering degree will limit what they can do in their careers. Nonsense! My alma mater, Olin, likes to describe engineering as "the liberal arts degree of the 21st century." My senior year of college, I lived with five other people. Two are now just finishing medical school, one has earned her MBA and is working in startup companies, and two have gone on to get their PhDs studying subjects like interaction design and social media. Of the six of us, I'm the only one who is just a plain old engineer. Other people I went to school with have gone on to law school, divinity school, agricultural work... there are many options. Rather than closing doors, an engineering degree can open them for you.

And third -- if you're anything like me, you'll read a lot of biographies on here about how people got to where they are, and you'll make yourself a plan to get there too some day. You'll do the same kind of work they did, go to the same kinds of schools, get the same kinds of degrees, get the same kinds of internships and jobs. And I agree it's wonderful and very important to have a plan. But don't be afraid of that plan changing. I certainly never planned to go to Olin; Olin didn't even exist when I started thinking about college, and my plan was to go to one of the big name schools, but when Olin came along I just couldn't pass it up. I intended to go to grad school after college, but I was rejected. I intended to make a big career out of working at that robotics startup company, but it just wasn't for me. So even though all of these things have violated the "plans" I had in place at the time, they've actually worked out great. I have a job that I absolutely love, with people I respect and enjoy spending time with, and the opportunities I've had with this job have let me meet some really interesting people in my industry -- and I even met my fiance on a business trip! None of this would have happened without my plans changing along the way, and even if some of those decisions were painful at the time, I am so grateful that things worked out the way they did. So that's my biggest advice. Don't be afraid if you think you want to change your plan, and don't be too upset if someone changes them for you. It's good to have a plan, it's good to think ahead, but sometimes an unexpected deviation from your plan can be one of the best things that ever happens to you.
Interests 
Writing/blogging, Working outdoors, Pets, Computing, Reading, Video games, Travel
Race & Ethnicity 
White
Level of Participation 
After-school visit, Field trip participation, In-school visit, Online role model, Summer camp visit
My Experience 
I have been a Role Model many times.
Availability 
No Preference
Resources 
Fun demonstrations or materials, Hands-on activities for students, Identifying other role models
Program Affiliation 
Other

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