Aerospace Engineering Student Michael Saksa Talks Internships, Academics and Future Plans

Michael Saksa had quite the summer. For six weeks, he competed in Invent@SU, where he and his team created a handy tool for clothing repair called HomeTailor. Following the competition, he began an internship with the New York State Department of Transportation where he explored what a possible future in aerospace engineering looked like for him. In this Q&A, Saksa talks about his internship, plans for the future and advice for students to make the most out of their experience at the University.

What sparked your interest in pursuing an education at Syracuse University?

I really loved the location. My family is from Hammond, Indiana and we love to vacation in Upstate, New York so we’re familiar with the area. I also love the great programs at Syracuse University and the support it offers students – It was an easy decision, really!

Can you discuss the company you interned with and your duties?  

I interned with the New York State Department of Transportation as a student assistant. I assisted with projects in the Highway Design Department and we worked on a highway renovation project in Ithaca.

Since the project has expanded, we had to expand the land the state department owns. We focused on restoring the sidewalks and I drafted up new borders for the land.

What did you like the most about your internship?  

It was a great working environment and management was accommodating. They gave us options to work at different times so you could come in or leave earlier. The people I worked with are also great. Even if I made a mistake, it was never a big deal. They treated everyone with respect.

Did you face any challenges during your internship?  

Because I was in Invent@SU, I had to start the internship late. All of the other interns started six weeks before I did so they already knew each other and had good rapport. Initially, it did feel awkward being the new guy when everyone else was settled in. I eventually settled in and got to know some other great people too.  

Were there any specific projects you enjoyed working on?

Most of my projects were highway restoration but I also did a little field work and surveying on I-81, which I enjoyed. Surveying is how they make GPS routes. We went along the side of the highway with equipment where there were points marked with stone markers which are known coordinates. We take the points and get more accurate pinpoints of them and with that data, we can improve GPS accuracy. New surveying technology has definitely improved GPS accuracy.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

I plan on continuing my education and hope to work at NASA or SpaceX. I feel like I’m getting valuable engineering experience and making great connections. I’ve learned a lot not only from the classroom but from this internship as well.

What advice do you have for students about making the most out of their academic experience?  

I would say reach out to professors, go to office hours, connect with others on LinkedIn, and attend events like the career fair. That’s actually where I got my internship with the New York State Department of Transportation.  Also, always try to show up for class – it’s very easy not to.

Try to put yourself out there and make friends. Get engaged in a community you’re passionate about and balance your social and academic life well.