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Diving into real-world engineering experiences at UIndy (Derek Elam, ’23 electrical engineering)


At UIndy’s R.B. Annis School of Engineering, Derek Elam ‘23 (electrical engineering) has found sparks of inspiration that light the path before him.

The small classes. The low student-to-instructor ratio. The relevant and real-world experiences in class. These are the currents that run through UIndy, powering success for students like Elam.

The Annis School’s DesignSpine curriculum is unique in that it focuses on developing relevant and real-world skills so that students can tackle the most challenging situations of today and tomorrow. 

“The Design Spine has a heavy emphasis on teamwork, working well in a team, and even managing a team and what that is like,” said Elam. “It gives perspective on how the real world works. When I spoke with people in the industry, like my brother who is a project manager, the things that I was experiencing sophomore year are things that happen in the real world.”

But Elam’s focus is very much still on his classwork thanks to the professors in the Annis School. He said that the low student-to-instructor ratio allows him unparalleled access to instructors—not just for homework help, but also to get to know them as people and professionals.  

“Nick Schmidt, our in-house electrical lab manager, did a wonderful job helping run many of the labs that we do as engineers,” said Elam. “He has taught me a lot about things I would have never have thought about—namely reasons for which certain circuits will never work in the real world, but would work on a bench under perfect conditions. I would consider most of my professors as mentors, in that I could go to any of them and ask questions and get an answer that would lead me in the right direction.”

Electricity and water are generally not a good combination, but Elam has made many new memories and friendships as a member of UIndy’s swim and dive team.

“There are countless experiences that I have had with everyone on that team,” he said. “From freshman year, talking to the upperclassmen in engineering about how engineering at UIndy works and the different experiences that they have had; building great friendships with people around the world from many different cultures—have all been great.”

Elam says UIndy is great for students looking for a smaller school where they can have easy access to instructors across campus. 

“The student-to-faculty ratio allows for students to get to know their professors, be comfortable asking questions, and pick the brains of our brilliant professors,” he said. “My favorite thing about UIndy is that I can talk to any of my professors if I am struggling to understand something and they will be able to assist me in some way.”