Engineering Week: Nathan Antczak

Nathan Antczak

Major: Mechanical Engineering (graduation anticipated from RVC Spring 2019; NIU Spring 2021) NIU Engineering at RVC program

Internship: Accuride, September 2017 – December 2018; Woodward, December 2018 – present

Hometown: Rockford, IL

High School: Boylan

What drew you to engineering?

My cousin Tadd works in Abu Dhabi as a civil engineer. He was the first person to spark my interest in engineering. He travels the world and is passionate about what he does. His passion really inspired me.

In high school, I started discovering what engineering is all about and I became even more interested. I took technical drawing as a freshman, and then beginning and advanced CAD classes my sophomore year. By the time I took a mechanical and electrical systems class my junior year, it really confirmed for me that this is what I want to do.

Tell me about your internship experience.
I interned at Accuride, a metal foundry here in Rockford. I was blown away when I got that internship in my first semester at RVC. I thought, “OK. I’m an engineering intern now. What does that mean? What do I do?” I went from having a very basic textbook understanding of what engineering is to working as an engineering intern doing engineering work. My boss and my coworkers were wonderful and incredibly helpful. The people you work with know you’re an intern. They know you have some sort of knowledge, but they don’t expect you to know how to do everything on your own. So, everyone was great at helping and educating you. Other students tell me they are having similar experiences.

While you have the educational aspect of the textbook and teachers in the classroom, you get real career experience when you come to your internship, and it’s been incredibly valuable. It teaches you what you might like about industry, what you might not like about industry. I think that exposure is one of the most valuable parts of the whole internship program.

What do you do as part of your internship?

Accuride makes wheel end components for heavy trucks. That includes things like brake drums, rotors and wheels. My general day-to-day tasks are in the warranty department. Customers will send in pieces that they think are broken or defective, so we need someone to look at them and figure out what’s wrong with them. If there is something wrong, why is it the way it is? What happened? I inspect slack adjusters. I pull them apart, check certain torque values, see if they function properly, if they’re up to spec, and if the customer is using the correct or the incorrect grease on them. I’m also responsible for various special projects and tasks when the need is there.

What have you found to be the most challenging part of the internship?

I’ve always liked engineering, but I wasn’t very familiar with technical talk: the names of tools, different torque values and stuff like that. So there was a learning curve when I got into the shop. Balance is also a huge part. One of the most difficult things about the internship is knowing how many hours you can reasonably take on. It’s important to balance how much time you spend at work versus the amount of time you spend studying, doing homework and fitting everything else in.

How has the program prepared you for your field?

The internship is a great help in figuring out career interests, whether you like doing analyses on parts and whether you like designing parts, which is something I really enjoy. The companies in the area have a variety of positions and work in a variety of industries, so it’s great exposure. When the students go to the internship fairs, the companies have videos playing that explain very well what they do and how they do it, as well as what kind of engineers they’re looking for. I keep hearing that one of the biggest things employers are looking for in hiring engineering majors is experience in the field, so the internship experience in this program is very valuable.

Would you recommend the program to other students? Please explain.

Yes, because of the value it has as a whole: the location, the experience and the teachers are all great. The teachers have all been in industry and they’re all incredibly helpful. The experience you get at work and the people you meet in the program are great. Most of the other students are in a similar boat as you: they’re working, some of them have children, a lot of them have internships, and they’re all taking similar classes as you. A lot of the same students are in all three of my engineering classes, so there’s a lot of camaraderie when it comes to explaining something, or just life in general. We all succeed together if there’s an easy test and we do better than we thought, and we all fail together and complain together when it’s a hard one.

The value the program provides is just unbelievable. I don’t think there can be a better value than this.

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