Kettering University student helps program autonomous technology during co-op

I absolutely would not have had these experiences at any other school. I would not have had the opportunity to do something from the get-go immediately following high school.”

From the day Alex Irwin ‘21 started his co-op at Hyundai Mobis, he was given projects dealing with artificial intelligence and autonomous technology. Kettering University gave him the opportunity to be treated as a professional working in the industry as a college freshman.

“I had just graduated high school, and then two weeks later I was living on my own in Plymouth, Michigan to go to my co-op,” said Irwin, a Computer Science and Computer Engineering major with a Cybersecurity concentration. “I received projects right away. I was asked to build a simple obstacle avoiding, artificial intelligence program right away to see where my skill level was. The next term they were super happy with my work, so I was asked to design and engineer an emergency system that would be used for prototyping for an autonomous vehicle.” 

The following term at Mobis he transferred teams from the software engineering group to the test side of things to see what was happening with the results from the programs he was producing. Irwin was tasked with implementing the critical electrical systems in the test vehicles. He redesigned and documented the wiring of all the test vehicles to reduce down on clutter.

Irwin was given a project, a budget and the freedom to work with any engineer he wanted to complete the task.

“My director told me he thought I could do it on my own. In three weeks I had a working prototype. By the end of the term it was fully implemented in the system. That system is still in place in the vehicles today,” Irwin said. “One of the cool things I got from that was because it was an invention that I created while I was there I also had to go through the testing and design phase work and make sure it could keep up with the standards of autonomous vehicles. I was leading discussions as a sophomore in college with the new team I was on and its manager. I managed that entire project.”  

Irwin was then invited to join a new team the company started to plan for the company’s advanced research and participate in high level discussions on which direction they were going with their projects.

Irwin knows he had these experiences because of his time at Kettering University.

“I absolutely would not have had these experiences at any other school. I would not have had the opportunity to do something from the get-go immediately following high school,” Irwin said. “It was insane to begin with. That very first term for the first month I kept hearing, ‘It’s OK if you can’t do this.’ But then I would do it, and everyone was surprised. It was very gratifying that I would surprise my colleagues and that I was able to push the boundaries of what they thought I could do right out of high school and in college.”

And then he applied what he learned in the classroom at his co-op, as well took what he learned from his co-op and used it in the classroom. Headshot of Alex Irwin

“I have learned stuff at work about really high level math for research and come back to a class and know that I just did this. Then the vice versa of that, instead of waiting to do all the general classes before anyone would even consider me as an employee, I was able to jump right into a career and learn at the same time. At any other schools this wouldn't have been an option until junior year,” Irwin said.

Irwin, who is from Cadillac, Mich., came to Kettering for the co-op opportunity. Understanding why he needed to learn all the material in class so he could immediately apply it at a job motivated him.

The more time he spent at Kettering and in his co-op, he also learned a lot more about himself. At first, he was apprehensive about everything and second guessed himself. But as he worked and found success, he became more confident. Public speaking comes more easily to him now, and he sees a big improvement from when he was in high school, he said.

“There’s an element of soft skills that you immediately develop. You either learn it and thrive under the pressure, or you end up getting critical feedback at the end of the term that points out where you can grow,” Irwin said. “People don’t really care if you screw up. There’s an understanding that you’re not going to know every answer. You can fail and still be OK. Kettering offers a much better learning environment that allows you grow.”