A Co-op Student Chooses MITRE and Advances His Career

September 2014
Neel Shah
Neel Shah

Neel Shah had choices. IBM, Raytheon, and GM told Shah that as a Northeastern University co-op student he'd be helping out on "something of importance" to the company. MITRE told Shah that he'd not only be able to participate in a variety of projects in which he'd be given real responsibility, but would also receive one-on-one attention. During a five-hour interview with MITRE in Bedford, Massachusetts, his interviewers seemed just as interested in his thought processes and how quickly he could learn as in his technical acumen. Shah chose MITRE.

For Joe Chapman, a digital electronics engineer, that interview with Shah was one of the best he ever had. Shah's mind-set, curiosity, and motivation to learn made it clear to Chapman that Shah could make an impact at MITRE. Looking back on his experience, Shah came to see just what an impact MITRE had on him.

"Absolutely amazing," Shah says of his experience, "more than I could have asked for or expected. I learned a lot and contributed a lot because of my colleagues' willingness to train me and get me up to speed. When I was working at MITRE, I didn't feel like a temporary employee or isolated in my own little corner. They treated me like a full-time employee and a member of the MITRE family. I always felt welcome. During the evenings, we'd go to someone's home and hang out. I got to meet other employees, got to know them personally."

Advancing Important Goals in Secure Electronics

For the first part of his six-month co-op at MITRE, Shah worked on a sensitive radar program. During the second part, he worked in the Secure Electronics Lab run by the National Security Engineering Center, the federally funded research and development center that MITRE operates for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community. There, he analyzed electromagnetic leakage from electronic systems executing cryptographic software to determine how to make the software more secure.

According to Scott Dyer, one of Shah's mentors at the lab, Shah's cutting-edge research contributed significantly toward reaching long-term MITRE goals. Given that the project involves cryptography, signal processing, electromagnetics, microelectronics, and other disciplines, Dyer says, "It's remarkable that he was even able to understand what we're up against."

Back at Northeastern, Shah received the university's Cooperative Education Award for demonstrating outstanding accomplishment and exceptional professional growth in his co-op experience. Having been exposed to a field of increasing interest to industry and academia, Shah is pursuing similar work in secure electronics with one of his professors. He's now several steps ahead of other students and is leading a new Northeastern engineering program, attending conferences (including a recent one in Germany), and publishing his first paper.

Just as exciting for Shah, and for his mentors at MITRE, is the ongoing collaboration in secure electronics between MITRE and Northeastern.

A Co-op Program that Introduces Students to MITRE—and Vice Versa

MITRE has worked with Northeastern students for about 25 years, and the co-op program satisfies real needs. According to Adam Woodbury, another of Shah's mentors at the lab, the program allows MITRE to really get to know job candidates (and candidates to get to know MITRE) and to cultivate the type of people MITRE wants to hire by exposing them to new fields of expertise.

Shah will graduate in May 2015 from a combined bachelor's and master's degree program. Then, he says, MITRE will definitely be one of his top choices for his first professional engineering position.

"I see myself working as a technical person but would like to have some kind of business interaction in a technical field," he says, "and maybe get an MBA." He knows, from his co-op experience, that MITRE would give him the challenge, the support, and the scope to learn and to grow.

—by David Kuperman