Travis Keeler found that WIMTACH was greater than his expectations. From joining the program as an Electronic Student Researcher, he’s expanded his imagination of what was possible for his future. With this new awareness, has come his ambition for a research and development role, something like what he is doing now at WIMTACH. “I didn’t even know that this was sort of possible at the college level,” he said. “But now that I’m here … I’m pretty surprised at sort of the level of ability that Centennial graduates have.”
A student in Centennial College’s Advanced Diploma, Electronics Engineering Technology program, when Travis first started discussing employment with other students, he was often hearing about required technical skills. Unexpectedly, these skills were noted as key responsibilities for a Student Researcher role that had just become available at the time. He knew then that WIMTACH would offer him the necessary experience needed to build upon his professional background. “I thanked the job poster for enlightening me on the specific technologies relevant to my impending job search, and illuminating my knowledge gap,” he said.
His first major contribution to a WIMTACH project was a project collaboration with Interaxon for the Muse device. The applied research collaboration is led under the FIBRE program at WIMTACH and centered on determining the best durable e-textile fabric to support the functionalities of Muse headbands. Working with other student researchers like Lakshmi Gopi, Travis and the WIMTACH research team were able to successfully find a durable and long-lasting smart textile for the headbands.
With over eleven months of training at WIMTACH, Travis has gained valuable technical skills. Some of these skills include his improved understanding of how to separate schematic blocks and an in-depth knowledge of how to set up a microcontroller to work, how to troubleshoot electronic problems, and develop PCB Schematic designs from scratch. More, his internship enabled him to practice micro soldering and work on skills such as power supply troubleshooting, STM32 coding, Arduino coding, H-bride designing, and boost converter designing. His exposure to a variety of different electronic projects has provided him with a full scope of the role of a professional Electronic Technologist. This dynamic learning opportunity has been especially useful for him to pair with his studies at Centennial College, as his internship often introduces complex concepts to him before he is even assigned schoolwork on the subjects.
For Travis, his internship experience has provided him with the invaluable opportunity to really indulge in his interests. He always knew that a career in electronics was best suited for him, particularly because of its flexibility in enabling creativity, and at WIMTACH he was really able to build on his knowledge while having fun. “There is a lot to like about electronics,” he said. “You can choose to make something, make it, and have a tangible thing … You can start with the basics and grow it over time.” Travis’ understanding of the foundational concepts of electronics helped him to earn a role in other projects. He was able to assist the WIMTACH research team with a project collaboration with Acumade which centered on the development of a therapeutic wireless pain relief acupuncture device (TENS machine). The device delivers high-voltage, low-current stimulation to pain points in the body. Building upon a working model, Travis assisted the WIMTACH research team in designing and developing efficient features and troubleshooting existing errors. Ultimately, the team was able to successfully develop a fully functioning prototype. This project offered Travis his first hands-on experience with an electronics project and significantly, he was able to learn about the importance of prototyping every micro-detail of an electronic design before sending it for manufacturing. “Once the Gerber files are uploaded, your opportunity to tweak a design is relegated to physically manipulating the circuit with small gauge wires, superglue and a soldering iron,” he explained.
Travis has enhanced his information-gathering skills and his ability to listen and work collaboratively with others. A significant feature of project development, he noted that this skill was especially important when working with the industry partners from both projects. While working with industry partners with real-world business challenges, he has been able to measure when it was useful to share ideas, ask questions, and now appreciates the importance of understanding the needs of industry partners to create effective solutions. “I’ve definitely grown in my ability to listen to what an industry partner is saying and basically hold my horses or stave off the instinct to immediately suggest my first solution or the first idea that pops into my head,” he said. “[I] allow myself to think on something before jumping on the opportunity to show my intelligence or sort of look smart.” This insight helped Travis to learn about circuitry and to observe what he considered to be one of the most interesting parts of the Acumade project: the transformation of 2.4 volts from two rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries into 110 volts. “Looking back on preliminary discussions about small design features, and being able to see them implemented now on the working prototype, is such a joy,” he said.
Seeing the constructions of tangible PCBs from his designs for the first time was another major highlight of his experience at WIMTACH. “It was just amazing to be able to show that 3 years ago, I had no idea how a PCB was fabricated and here I am, basically making a motherboard,” he said. “That was an amazing experience.” Additionally, while helping with the testing phase of the Muse project, he reflected fondly on the contests that he created with other students. His collaborations with team members helped him to build strong friendships, since they were able to act as a resource for each other when faced with challenges. “Working with the other students has been great fun,” he said.
Slated to graduate in December, Travis has begun looking for work and preparing for technical interviews. He hopes to pursue a career as an Electronic technologist and in the long run, he dreams of being involved in the designing and manufacturing of a device. Although he is nervous about job searching, he feels confident about his ability to contribute in a professional landscape. “I definitely feel prepared for that,” he said. “Having worked at WIMTACH I’m getting these concepts drilled into my head daily, you can’t not learn these things.”
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