Semester at Stanford: transformative experience for SAS senior

Photo by Kartikye Mittal.
Senior Kartikye Mittal

It’s a Monday afternoon – 1:00 p.m. While most students would have been almost halfway through their school day, senior Kartikye Mittal is only just waking up. He rolls out of bed, no parents in sight, grabs something to eat, and bikes to school. Clad in a simple tee and cargo shorts, he wheels across pristine sidewalks lined with palm trees and finally arrives on campus. His destination? Not an SAS classroom, but a lab in Stanford University – his home for the next semester.

In January 2015, Kartikye began his search for an internship program by contacting several professors at Stanford. Dr. Andrew Kalman, director of the Space & Systems Development Lab and professor of aero-astro majors, took interest in Kartikye and agreed to meet with him when he visited Palo Alto later that month. Soon after, Kartikye landed a semester-long internship (Sep. 21 – Dec. 15, 2015) working full-time at Dr. Kalman’s lab.

“They had a big satellite-building project that they were working on, and I was working on the programming of it,” Kartikye said. “I was leading a team of five other graduate students who were taking Kalman’s class. Right now, the team’s just debugging it and I think they’re going to launch the satellite in June.”

Lab space and work area for aero-astro majors at Stanford University. Photo by Kartikye Mittal.
Lab space and work area for aero-astro majors at Stanford University. Photo by Kartikye Mittal.

Kartikye’s average day consisted mostly of working nonstop on his laptop in a room with five computers and various satellite parts. As the only full-time intern, he was in charge of a large variety of assignments.

“Kartikye had to figure out this one piece of hardware, the INMS, which had pretty bad documentation and simulation code that was troublesome at best,” said Max Perham, a current Stanford graduate student who worked alongside Kartikye.

While he admitted that the programming was a bit complicated, Kartikye found most of the learning and research simple as he had already begun to build his own personal satellite in December 2014.

“Over at Stanford, I asked for a lot of help for my own project,” Kartikye said. “In fact, my main purpose of taking on this internship was to get help with building my own satellite.”

Apart from gaining new insight for his designs, Kartikye also learned a lot of other useful skills during his semester at Stanford.

“In general, I just think that I matured a lot because I had to take care of myself. I feel a lot more prepared for college now,” Kartikye said. 

Satellite parts and programming bits in the making. Photo by Kartikye Mittal.
Satellite parts and programming bits in the making. Photo by Kartikye Mittal.

Kartikye is back at school now to finish his last few months and graduate from SAS. Unfortunately, because he took half a year off, his current class schedule was severely impacted. In order to complete all of his graduation credits, he must take two English courses, a health course, an art course, and a P.E. course.

“Right now, I have three free blocks and I can’t take any AP courses because they are all year-long. School is pretty boring,” Kartikye said.

Still, despite these minor setbacks, an opportunity to work one-on-one with a Stanford professor on a major project was one he could not have turned down. Come June, Karitkye will be graduating from SAS with a variety of unique experiences under his belt. Apart from 297 other classmates by his side, he will have several graduate-level friends and a supportive professor that he still keeps in touch with. His semester abroad proved to many that there is no limit to what high school students can do.

Teammate Monica Hew, a current PhD candidate at the Aero/Astro Engineering Department, also commented on Kartikye’s potential: “I think regardless of age, if you put in enough effort, you can do the job well. Kartikye is a great example of this – he’s dedicated and has really strong work ethic.”

Mr. Perham agreed that age should not stop a person from reaching for higher-level opportunities.

“I have no doubt that high school students can be extremely useful in graduate labs,” Mr. Perham said.

Even though it does require students to let go of the traditional, 4-year high school path, Kartikye concluded by saying that “if a chance like this comes to you – take it.”

Author: Jeane Khang

Jeane Khang is a Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Eye, along with Jenna Nichols, and is a producer of the Morning Show. This is her third year taking a journalism class and her 11th year at SAS. In her free time, she loves to learn dance routines, listen to music and eat Italian food.

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