Transformative Education: Interns at Work From Washington & Lee University

From W & L Transformative Education Feature Story 





Walker Brand '18

Hometown: Roanoke, VA
Computer Science and Mathematics
Company Name: Hardwire Armor Systems
Oak Hall, VA
What attracted you to this internship? How did you learn about it?

I knew that I wanted to gain some experience in defense technology going into this summer. When Dr. Kuehner told me about a student that graduated a few years ago that was now the president of Hardwire, doing some really cool things in the defense realm, I looked into what she did and I thought it was awesome. Dr. Kuehner got me in contact with her and she ended up offering me the internship.

What gave you an edge in landing this internship?

I would say the only way I was able to land this internship was because of Dr. Kuehner. If I had not reached out to him to see if he had any connections anywhere, I would have never found Hardwire. I also think the incredible alumni connections that W&L has to offer allowed me to have a chance at this awesome internship. When I talked to Emily Tunis, the president and COO of Hardwire, she told me that her first job was given to her by an alum and that she would be delighted to be able to give another W&L student theirs some day.

Describe your daily duties.

My days were pretty up in the air, and I never really knew what exactly I'd be working on. However, my days usually consisted of collaboration with my boss on how to solve some of the day's problems; maybe a little bit of work with Solidworks, designing parts; and typically some work in the fabrication shop, assembling what I'd designed.

What are some tasks/projects you worked on?

The main project that I worked on was with the Marine Corps. We had been given the task of trying to relaminate some windows that come from armored vehicles. These windows are several layers thick with glass and while in the field, the layers of the windows have separated (delaminated) and need repair. Our job was to evaluate the windows, fix what was wrong, and make sure they were ready to go back in the field.

Have any courses and/or professors helped you prepare for this internship?Which ones?

I had to pull from what I learned in all my engineering classes, especially my CADD class with Dr. D'Alessandro. Every day, we used principles and terms that I learned in my engineering classes. While I learned a lot about engineering at Hardwire, if I hadn't come in with a solid background in engineering, I wouldn't have been able to collaborate as much as I did.

What did you hope to learn by the end of your experience?

I really hoped to learn more about the design process that goes into making armor. Hardwire does some incredible stuff like making armor for military vehicles and police cars, making bulletproof handheld whiteboards for schools, and making the lightest body armor in the world.

What was your favorite part or perk of the internship?

Being in a place with so much technology and brain power is an awesome experience. With all the cool gadgets and armor all around the place, it is like walking in a candy store. Also, I was fortunate enough to be able to work the gun tunnel one day, and that was sweet. I got to pack the ammunition, load of different arrangements of armor to test, and actually shoot the armor.

What did you learn from living in the city where the internship was located?

I lived in Oak Hall, Virginia this summer, which is not much of a city. However, I learned a lot outside of work. Some of the biggest things I learned while living in Oak Hall, where I didn't know many people and where there really aren't many people, is how to enjoy a simple life and make do with what I have. In such a rural place, there aren't a lot of big city amenities, and the internet is really spotty. It was actually a great blessing to be able to tune out of the chaos of a wifi-engrossed world for a little bit.

What key takeaways/skills do you bring back to W&L?

I learned a lot about engineering, but more importantly, I learned how to collaborate with people better and to analyze problems more thoroughly. My boss was a very smart man and he did a good job of considering every aspect of a problem before trying to figure out a solution. I was able to spend a lot of time collaborating with him on many different projects this summer, giving me lots of good experience.

What advice would you give to students interested in a position like this?

For a student interested in doing anything over the summer, whether it is engineering-related or not, I would recommend they seek out their advisor or check out Colonnade Connections. We are so fortunate to have such knowledgeable and helpful advisors here at W&L mixed with such a wealth of resources. If there is something you want to do, research it, ask about it, and go for it.

Has this experience influenced your career aspirations? How so?

My experience definitely influenced my career aspirations. Going into this summer, I knew I wanted to do something defense-related, and now I know that I really enjoy working in the defense industry. I would even venture as far to say that I will probably do something similar next summer.

Describe your experience in a single word.