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Geoffrey Knopf

Engineering Physics, B.S. '16

Have you ever heard of VistaPrint? My guess is that you probably have. Their proprietary technology enables them to maintain highly efficient production facilities serving over one hundred and thirty countries globally. Would you be surprised if a sophomore engineering student from Biola helped to develop one of these proprietary technologies? Well, you can suspend your disbelief, because that engineering student was me. I firmly believe that the rigor and applicability of Biola’s coursework has effectively prepared me to tackle challenging, real-world engineering problems, even as an undergraduate student. In addition, I am grateful that Biola strongly encourages its 3/2 engineering students to pursue internships alongside their education. This advice initiated my early quest for internships as a freshman. In some instances, I offered to work for free, knowing that the experiences I might gain from an otherwise inaccessible internship would prove invaluable. By discussing the work experiences I have had thus far, I hope to show how Biola has laid the foundation for my success.

It may seem unusual that I began pursuing internships as a freshman, when I would not be looking for a full-time position until I had a degree in hand. As a 3/2 engineering student completing my first year of college, graduation would be at least four years away. Although I was partially motivated by the financial burden of funding my education, I can more clearly see the merit of this early initiative in retrospect. If I could find a reputable company and offer to work for free, perhaps I could get my foot in the door and add a work experience relevant to my ultimate career goals to my resume. Afterwards, I could leverage this experience to obtain a paid internship. Perhaps, I could even obtain a part-time engineering position before graduating, placing myself substantially ahead of the host of other engineering majors graduating with excellent degrees, but absolutely no practical experience.

As I completed my first year of engineering coursework, I was on the prowl for internships converging with my academic interests. I let family, friends and acquaintances know about the kind of internships I had in mind so they could potentially provide me with leads. Soon, my dad became friends with Bert Ohlig, the CEO of an industrial fabrication company called Fabcon, and introduced me to him. I did not hesitate to inform him that I was looking for an engineering internship. I said enthusiastically, “I’d be very interested in being an intern at your company this summer. I am a bright student and extremely teachable. I would love to contribute to your company in any way I can. There would be no need to pay me, since I think the experience would be invaluable.” Seeing my eagerness, he hired me straightaway. To my delight, that summer I helped to develop one of VistaPrint’s proprietary technologies: a fast, high-resolution printer. While I needed to acquire various skills on the job, I was prepared for the challenge. Biola had ingrained me with a tenacious work ethic and the problem solving techniques needed to conquer the challenge. I was able to apply what I had learned in my physics and programming classes to calibrate motor controls and debug software.

Having established a precedent of quality work with Fabcon, I was thrilled when they asked me to work on another project for them the following summer. This time, they independently contracted with me to develop an algorithm for aligning printed circuit boards relative to substrates. Although I was intimidated by the ambitious project, I embraced the opportunity knowing that I had little to lose. I was paid by the hour to do research and development, regardless of the ultimate success of the project. If I failed, I was simply an undergraduate who had tried his best. Yet, if I succeeded, I had accomplished something uncommon. I sat down at my desk and began designing the algorithm. I used the knowledge I had gained from my Data Structures programming class to design legible, object-oriented code. In addition, I applied what I had learned in my Computer Techniques for Scientists and Engineers class to create a reliable, streamlined algorithm that found the ideal alignment without needing to test all the possible orientations for the printed circuit. This reduced the calculation time of the company’s previous software from a few seconds to a few milliseconds. Thus, my code improved prior performance by a factor of one thousand. When writing a subsequent letter of recommendation, Bert Ohlig remarked, “Geoffrey’s solution is superior to the efforts of two seasoned programmers.” I was grateful that the excellent education I was receiving at Biola was so directly applicable to real-world engineering projects.

The next spring, while I was enrolled in the Circuits and Instrumentation I course, Dr. Silzel received a request for interns from a company called Theta Engineering in Costa Mesa. This company develops embedded software and electronics for industrial clients. As I was conversing with Dr. Silzel about some of my exciting work experiences, he remembered the company’s request and recommended that I apply for an internship there. This was impeccable timing since I had reasonable experience with software and my course in circuits was in progress. Toward the end of the semester, I applied to Theta Engineering and obtained an interview. The first part of the interview went exceptionally well. I shared my past work experiences and accomplishments while asking questions to get an overall sense of the company. However, I soon discovered that the last part of the interview process was a two-hour programming test where I had to write a linear interpolation algorithm. Although this discovery spiked my heart rate temporarily, I recalled learning how to write interpolation algorithms in my Computer Techniques for Scientists and Engineers class. Thus, I passed the test and obtained the internship position. While working at the company, I collaborated with two engineers to develop a sequencer for an industrial spectroscopy client. Additionally, I was tasked with developing a touch-screen oscilloscope.

Not only has Biola prepared me as an engineering student, it has prepared me for my Christian life with a biblically grounded education. I have had several opportunities to discuss God and morality with my coworkers. Because of my work ethic, proficiency, and character, they respect my religious views and occasionally ask questions about God or my opinion on the right thing to do in particular situations. Ultimately, I hope that my life will have an impact on them as they watch how I live and they continue to ask questions about God. I would not be able to dialog with them as intelligently if not for Biola’s stellar courses in biblical integration, theology, hermeneutics, and worldviews. I am also uniquely motivated to do my best work as an engineering student because Biola has helped to increase my understanding that God is glorified through my diligence and the excellence of my work.

Because of stories like mine, Biola has begun to earn a reputation for outstanding and ethical engineering students. Thus, some engineering companies are asking for students from Biola to fill their internship positions. I wish to encourage you, if you are a prospective 3/2 engineering student, to make the most of your unique opportunity to take practical engineering courses along with Biola’s exceptional Bible courses. You may have the opportunity to apply your knowledge of physics or the Bible sooner than you realize. Begin searching for internships as soon as you can, since work experiences can quickly transform into remarkable opportunities. If God has called you to engineering, trust in His faithfulness and have confidence in the quality of your education. I hope my story has helped to show how Biola prepares its engineering students for success in their fields of study and their walks with God.