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PSU engineering student takes gap year to intern at Tesla

It is not uncommon for university students to seek experience through internships over a summer, during breaks from classes, or to work alongside their course work in a semester. Some students, however, may get internship opportunities that require them to take time off from university to complete. 

Alex Hernandez, a Pitt State electronics engineering technology major, is interning with Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York. In order to intern with Tesla, Hernandez would have to take a semester, which was then extended to two semesters, off from his studies at PSU. However, the gap year was no problem for Hernandez, as he didn’t think twice before accepting the opportunity. 

“Once I got that offer, I jumped right to it instantly,” Hernandez said. “It was originally supposed to be one semester but was extended to two semesters.” 

Hernandez works as a control engineer at the factory. 

“I help keep the machines up to date programing wise… and sometimes it’s going to be some physical stuff like rewiring a system..,” Hernandez said. 

The path to an internship with Telsa took some time for him. Hernandez found the internship opportunity through Indeed and decided to apply. He then had to complete an aptitude test before any interviews, to determine if he would be a suitable candidate for the internship. 

“When they reached out to me asking if I was still interested and I said, ‘Yeah’ and then they told me they would send me a test within the next 20 minutes..,” Hernandez said. “I had three hours to create a scenario where I would have to get this machine to run using different tags and values they had already set up for me.” 

Randy Winzer, professor of electronics engineering, had Hernandez in several classes and said finding and eventually landing the internship with Tesla spoke to Hernandez’s determination. 

“It speaks well that he had the initiative to find it (Telsa internship) out, apply for it, and then get it,” Winzer said. “We have relationships with local companies… those internships are easier to come by because those companies… participate in our career fair and actively recruit students here. Tesla is not doing that, so it took some determination on his part… if you want those opportunities, you’re going to have to pursue them. We’ll help you, but you have to peruse those on your own.” 

Hernandez was originally an automotive technology major but chose to switch to electronic engineering, as he struggled to find experience as a technician and wanted a major that was becoming increasingly relevant. 

“I couldn’t find a job as a technician,” Hernandez said. “They wouldn’t hire me without experience, and I couldn’t get experience without getting a job first. Since I was already going to Pitt State, I thought I would choose something that was more towards computers since that’s where the world is heading now.” 

An internship is not a requirement for graduation in electronics engineering, but Hernandez is most excited about having the opportunity to gain experience through an internship. 

“It boils down to experience,” Hernandez said. “…that’s something that I had been lacking and I can’t get going to school which is why I did the internship. It’s something I’m getting by being here at Tesla.” 

Hernandez credits his courses at PSU for helping him gain the necessary knowledge and fundamentals needed to work at Tesla. According to Clark Shaver, professor of electronics engineering, who had Hernandez in several classes, Hernandez always performed well in his classes at Pitt State. 

“Alex is a fun student to have in class, he’s been very enjoyable,” Shaver said. “He’s a hard-working student and he’s always done well in my classes. It demonstrates his determination and drive; he’s always looking for opportunities to go above and beyond and this (internship) is an example of that.” 

Hernandez’s internship is not only a testament to his personal dedication but is also a testament to the quality of the electronic engineering program. 

“I think this is fairly indicative of the types of opportunities our students have,” Shaver said. “We have students that go to lots of companies that are doing high tech work.” 

Winzer said the program teaches students relevant skills for the workplace, which benefits both the student and the employer when it comes to internships. 

“We work hard to make sure the skills we’re teaching students are relevant,” Winzer said. “Internships are a two-road street for students and business. It’s good for them (students)… at the same time the company is not hiring you because they like you or want to be a good corporate citizen. They want you to be useful for them, so you have to have some skillsets that apply to what it is they need, and Tesla has obviously decided that Alex has that…” 

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