Tarun Prakash channels his creativity and experiments with real-world research opportunities, preparing him for his first big career move: an internship at Tesla
A common thread of perseverance and innovation connects all Boilermakers, from the small steps of first-year students to the giant leaps of successful alumni. Tarun Prakash, a second-year mechanical engineering student, is already off to an exciting career filled with both small and giant leaps.
His last giant leap is a summer internship at Tesla.
“I was really happy and excited when I got the offer. I didn’t really expect to hear from Tesla, from any company,” a humble Prakash says.
A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Prakash was drawn to Purdue early in high school. “When it comes to engineering relationships, resources, and opportunities, no other school has what Purdue has,” he says.
When it comes to engineering connections, resources, and opportunities, there is no other school that has what Purdue has.
Class of 2024, mechanical engineering
Prakash has already built an impressive resume, and this is only his fourth semester at Purdue. He laid the foundation for college success as a high school student. Now that he’s a Boilermaker, he’s preparing for career success with the help of his mentors at Purdue.
Scott Meyer, managing director of Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories and senior advisor to the Purdue space program, inspired Prakash as a mentor, pushing him toward growth and discovery with each new endeavor.
Although Prakash majored in mechanical engineering, he emphasized aerospace in his extracurricular involvement.
“Mechanical engineering is quite broad and allows me to do much more than aerospace-related work. I’m already involved in a lot of aeronautical stuff, so when I applied for my mechanical design internship at Tesla, I thought, “Why not try something different?”
Prakash learns that he will never have to take a giant leap alone, no matter where his path leads.
Prakash started solving business problems when he was a sophomore in high school. He and four of his peers noticed that their teachers faced an avoidable challenge. When K-12 teachers are present, the entire process consists of manual data entry at the start of each lesson period.
“Teachers have to hand-mark everything in their system, and then that information goes to the district and the state,” says Prakash.
Prakash and his peers conducted a survey of high school teachers and found that around 10% of class time is wasted because the teacher has to complete administrative tasks, including taking attendance. “If all of these tasks are automated every period of every day, those few minutes add more time for real learning,” says Prakash.
The five students created Nize Systems, a tech startup that aims to simplify and automate the attendance process in K-12 schools.
In most states, funding for public schools is awarded in part based on enrollment and attendance. “My co-founders and I realized that if the attendance system is more accurate, teachers won’t miss any students and schools will maximize their state funding,” says Prakash.
Technology can help schools access up to $100,000 in additional funding each school year, a major difference for an underfunded public school.
Prakash brought his penchant for problem solving to Purdue and got into extracurricular opportunities that piqued his interest.
During his first month on campus, Prakash became involved with the Purdue Space Program, an interdisciplinary team of students within the National Student Organization for Space Exploration and Development (SEDS- USA). The Purdue Space Program leads with curiosity and aims to create innovative aerospace technology. The program offers students the opportunity to design, build, and fly experimental rockets while working with the guidance of mentors and more experienced faculty members, including Meyer, its primary advisor.
“I first met Tarun when he was part of an incredibly talented and driven group of undergraduates working on rocket projects for the Purdue space program,” Meyer said.
Prakash is one of 50 members of the liquid rocket team within the Purdue space program. He started as an engineer and now holds the position of propulsion manager. The liquid rocket team participates in an event to launch a liquid oxygen and methane rocket that aims to reach a height of 45,000 feet.
Prakash says he learned as much from the team’s failures as from their successes, if not more. His experience with the Purdue space program will prepare him for similar challenges in his career, no matter what he decides to pursue.
“One of the goals for our next rocket is to make sure we can pass on all the knowledge and design heritage in the mistakes we’ve made,” he says.
Prakash knows that mindset is key to solving complex engineering problems. “I view setbacks as learning opportunities,” he says. “We learned that we shouldn’t stop at the most obvious cause of the problem and move on. We found that we needed to dig deeper. There is room for endless discovery.
Zucrow Labs and Mentoring
Prakash also found a discovery opportunity through his undergraduate research with Zucrow Labs. Since 2009, Meyer has been the chief adviser to the Purdue space program and managing director of Zucrow Labs, the nation’s largest university propulsion lab.
Current research capabilities include turbomachinery aerodynamics, aeroacoustics, combustion, measurement and control, computational fluid mechanics, particle flow heat transfer, and atomization processes.
In addition to working closely with Meyer on the rocket team, Prakash now serves under Meyer as an engineer at Zucrow.
“After meeting Tarun through the Purdue space program, he took it upon himself to send me his
resume and apply to do research at Zucrow,” says Meyer. “He is very motivated and enthusiastic.”
Of Meyer, Prakash says, “He knows how to guide people. It won’t give you the answers, but it will give you all the tools to help you understand and grow. Meyer’s hands-on mentorship and personal guidance made Prakash a better engineer.
Having a great mentor is key to knowing if your baby steps are leading you in the right direction. Prakash engages in challenging, high-level work at Zucrow, and some of the problems he encounters require knowledge from courses that Prakash has not yet taken. He’s only a sophomore, after all.
“When undergraduates come to Zucrow Labs, most have no experience with the kind of mechanical and hands-on work required in the lab,” Meyer says. “Tarun is extremely thoughtful in his approach to work. He learns quickly and has gained confidence. He also always has a smile on his face. »
Prakash adds: “I had to develop the ability to learn things on the spot.” Most of his team members at Zucrow are in graduate school or beyond. Working with older students has broadened Prakash’s view of what is possible.
“It was difficult at first, but eventually I started to understand and succeed,” says Prakash. “Having a strong team helps a lot. Without the people I worked with, I certainly couldn’t have done what I did.
Meyer says undergraduate and graduate students who work at Zucrow are involved in designing an experimental test setup and test fixtures. “It’s always interesting to see how their skills develop because they transfer when they’re looking for their first job after school,” Meyer says.
More baby steps
Prakash plans to stay in aerospace or mechanical engineering for as long as he can, and he hopes to enroll in a graduate program at Purdue after his senior year. He also didn’t rule out a step in the direction of big tech. “Consumer psychology fascinates me,” he says. “I really like engineering, so hopefully I can work as an engineer for a while and eventually move into product management and leadership roles.”
The real world and all of its uncertainties can seem daunting to some students, but Prakash feels up for the challenge. “I will be ready when I leave. I think Purdue is really good at preparing students for the real world,” he says. “Classes here are tough, of course, but more than that, we have to think creatively.”
Prakash will spend next summer working on mechanical design at Tesla.
“The courses I’ve taken so far at Purdue are foundational courses that I’m going to learn from at Tesla,” Prakash says. “I will use the knowledge acquired in courses such as physics, statics and thermodynamics. In addition, there are general skills. I’m used to collaborating with classmates on technical projects. That, combined with the entrepreneurship courses I took here, helped me become a better teammate. I feel really ready for summer thanks to Purdue.
Purdue’s Industrial Roundtable (IR) program helped Prakash prepare for the summer internship application and interview process. The three-day job fair attracts 400 companies each year. He says IR has helped him feel prepared for conversations with recruiters.
“I learned what kinds of things get recruiters’ attention and what they would like to hear about my background and resume,” Prakash says. “Once I started the interviews, I was able to target my answers based on what I had learned at the IR. I focused on how I could add value to their business and how I could fit into their corporate culture I discussed my interests and background and why I would be a good fit for their opening.
To future Boilermakers, Prakash says, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to the folks at Purdue. Everyone here is always ready to help, whether it’s a student, a professor, or an upper-class staff member. Everyone is super nice and ready to help in any way they can.
Prakash says it’s never too early to start building your network at Purdue.
“Networking is huge – that’s how I landed interviews with SpaceX, Tesla and Apple. Start building your network as soon as you can. It’s all about industry learning opportunities and Many companies hire Purdue students, like SpaceX, Tesla, and Apple, and their internship programs are really great opportunities.