My name is Jake Vaughn. As of writing this I am a Senior pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. During my time here, I’ve grown not just as an engineer but also as a person. I feel more prepared than ever to enter a technically complex and culturally diverse engineering environment. I’ve reached this point by pursuing different general education and project-based learning courses, participating in major and non-major extracurriculars, and performing independent research and development. Each of these aspects played a different role in my ongoing success, and they were all facilitated by ISU.
Global Classroom Experiences
It seems fitting to begin a cumulative reflection of my time at ISU by starting with the parts I came in dreading the most: general education electives. All of high school, I had been told that gen-ed courses were a waste of time and simply designed to keep students enrolled in more courses. However, after going through college and taking all of the gen-eds, I can confidently say they have been useful and have helped me in ways I could never have expected. The key gen-ed courses I took include International Trade / Finance and Philosophy. International Trade and Finance provided me with important lessons about both national and international connections and supply chains in modern societies. Philosophy provided me with the skills and mental frameworks needed to engage in discussion constructively while avoiding historical pitfalls and fallacies.
While these gen-ed courses provided much-needed rounding in terms of my understanding of how societies function and why conflict exists, my more technical project-based classes provided me with the experience I needed to thrive in an engineering workplace. Specifically, CprE 309: Software Development Practices and CprE 381: Computer Organization and Assembly Level Programming were instrumental in my development as a team member and an engineer. In CprE 309, I worked with a team to design, prototype, and develop a working roommate social phone app. More important than the technical skills I learned in this class, I also got real hands-on experience with the engineering design process. My team had weekly stand-up meetings and adhered closely to the agile development process. I got experience presenting new technologies to my teammates, resolving conflict over design disagreements, and integrating different functional units into a final working product. CprE 381, on the other hand, tested my problem-solving abilities. As an engineer, the idea of a challenging problem to solve using technology has always excited me, and there was no shortage of problems during my CprE 381 project. Our final deliverable was a multistage pipelined processor written in VHDL. During this design process, I was forced to spend hours staring at literal ones and zeros inside of my processor. Problem-solving at this low level was uniquely challenging and required me to think creatively about how I write test cases and debug code. I wasn’t able to simply print to the screen if I wanted to check a variable. I first needed to get that data into a specific register and then make a system-level function call to a simple print function. It was during these hours of debugging that I consulted manual after manual on using VHDL. I spent as much time out of class reading and learning VHDL as I did studying for the course material in class.
While I was working to become a more rounded individual inside of my class work, I was also excelling outside of the classroom through the extracurricular activities I participated in. I’ve been involved in the Information Assurance Student Group (IASG) ever since I was a freshman. Come sophomore I got involved in the Mountaineering and Climbing club (MCC). Through the climbing club I went on outdoor rock climbing trips to Devils Lake, Pictured Rocks, Horseshoe Canyon, Colorado, and Red River Gorge Kentucky. During my Junior I joined the Executive board members as the Risk Manager enabling me to take on a leadership position on trips going forward.
All in all my time as Iowa State has been nothing short of exceptional. I’ve always felt like I’ve been given enough room to grow, learn, and fail. Without ever being left alone or with nobody to turn to for help. This is an incredibly important balance to strike for a large university like ISU and I feel like it’s maintained it surprisingly well over my 4 years.