Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Incredible Alumni: Amber Palmer

After graduating in 2012 with a degree in engineering with electrical concentration, Amber Palmer began her career at Texas Instruments, a global semiconductor design and manufacturing company. She spends her days as a Lead Validation Engineer putting new products to the test in the lab.

What does an average day look like for you? 
I am responsible for making sure our new integrated circuit chip works both on a functional level and on a data sheet parametric level. I spend the majority of my time in the lab working with bench equipment very similar to that found in the EE labs at LeTourneau. I am tasked with trying to catch all bugs and reporting them back to the silicon designers. There are tests that I run that intentionally let out the magic smoke, which helps our team understand the absolute limits of our device. My job is to break it before the customer does. I want to catch every potential weakness as the parts I work on are the motor drivers for power steering and power breaking in newer automobiles.

What's a high point in your career since graduating from LETU?
For my first two years at Texas Instruments, I was a part of a rotational program. I received a new job assignment every six months that exposed me to a different function within the semi-conductor industry. I was able to work as a product/test engineer, an engineer within a wafer fab, a design engineer, and they even sent me on an international assignment! I spent six months working at one of TI's assembly test sites in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had always dreamed of working internationally as an engineer, and TI provided that opportunity for me.

Why did you choose to study electrical engineering?
Honestly, I had no exposure to engineering as a child. During my junior year of high school, my chemistry teacher pulled me aside after class and asked me what I wanted to major in. I said I didn't know. He laughed and told me to become an Electrical Engineer. Naively, I said ok! I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into at the time, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey.

How has your education benefited your position at Texas Instruments?
The LeTourneau engineering department places a strong emphasis on team projects and hands-on learning. Professors don't just teach theory, they expect you to be able to apply it in an actual practical and useful way. This has given me a tremendous advantage when I started in my role as Lead Validation Engineer. I walked into my lab and went, "Oh hey. Look. I'm back in Elab 3. I've got this!"

What's your favorite memory of your time at LeTourneau? 
Before I left LeTourneau, I was determined to paint a mural for my brother floor, the D2 Lions. My RD gave her approval, with one caveat: I had to have it completed before the freshman class arrived that year. Not counting the time it took for the paint to dry, the D2 mural was completed in 19.7 hours. Basically every D2 guy who was a part of Impact helped me finish that mural on time. The mural still stands in D2, and it is one of my favorite things I left behind for future students.

Was there a particular person who was influential during your time at LETU?
I don't think I can pick just one person that was very influential during my time at LeTourneau. Each and every professor I had helped me become the Engineer that I am today.

What advice do you have for a current LETU electrical engineering student or someone considering electrical engineering?
Current Students: Get to know your professors. They truly care about you. Do not be afraid to strike up a conversation with them. Go to their office during their office hours. Ask them questions. They want to see you succeed. I might be biased, but I truly believe that the EE department hands down has some of the best faculty within the entire university.

Future Students: Are you considering becoming an Electrical Engineer? Do it. Electrical Engineering is such a broad field that you are bound to find your little niche that you enjoy. It's also ok if you don't know exactly what you want to focus on quite yet. Just take the first step and proceed through the open doors.

Friday, December 4, 2015

From LeTourneau to the Tank

When JD Claridge was a student at LeTourneau University 15 years ago, he probably didn’t expect that he would one day present his own company to five of the country’s top business professionals. He probably didn’t think he would own a company that would be valued at $6 million. And he probably didn’t expect to pitch a business on national television. Yet, this fall, that’s exactly what happened.

Claridge, co-founder of drone startup xCraft, invented a different kind of drone. In a now saturated market, he used his innovative spirit—one that LETU students are known for—to create a product that has made America stop and take notice.

PhoneDrone Ethos
xCraft offers two revolutionary drone models. The X PlusOne is a professional, commercial drone that combines hovering capabilities and speed. The average drone has hovering capacity only. This, on the other hand, has the capacity to fly up to 60 miles per hour while climbing to 10,000 feet.

The second of the two xCraft drone models lives up to its name, PhoneDrone Ethos, by giving flight to your own smartphone. Far less expensive than a typical drone, it provides consumers easy access to aerial footage using their smartphone cameras. 

This fall, Claridge and his business partner, Charles Manning, pitched xCraft on ABC’s hit television show “Shark Tank.” The show gives entrepreneurs the chance to present their businesses to the Sharks­­—self-made millionaire and billionaire business moguls—who then decide if they want to invest in the entrepreneur’s company. Claridge and Manning originally requested $500,000 for a 20% stake in their company. After several sharks tried to outdo each other with higher offers—in a “shark fight,” as it’s called in the Tank—all five investors banded together to offer xCraft $1.5 million for a 25% stake. As a result, Claridge is now in business with Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Damon John. 

This extensive, all-sharks-in partnership signaled a remarkably high vote of confidence in Claridge’s company. Kevin O’Leary himself said that this kind of deal was “very rare in the Shark Tank.”

Before his turn in the Tank, Claridge graduated from LETU in 2001 with an aeronautical science electronic systems degree and we’re extraordinarily proud to be his alma mater. His work embodies LeTourneau’s vision of graduating professionals of ingenuity. While his schedule is packed these days creating innovative products and now working hard to take full advantage of such an entrepreneurial windfall, he took a moment to share how LETU helped him get where he is today:

“Attending LeTourneau was an incredible experience that not only taught me the skills I needed for my career but also challenged me to learn in a way I had not experienced before.  I often say that LeTourneau is where I learned how to learn.” 

Claridge credits faculty, and one professor in particular, as having a lasting effect on his life. 

“There were several faculty members who guided me along the way, but the standout is Lauren Bitikofer. While I attended LeTourneau, he and his wife, Kathy, took me under their wing. They fed me, mentored me, and even let me live at their house one summer. Ever since attending, Lauren and I have stayed in touch. We talk on a regular basis about radio control modeling and flying—two of our common passions. I have appreciated his guidance and friendship so much. He has truly had a profound impact in my life, both professionally and spiritually. Thank you, Mr. B!”

Claridge adds that LETU wasn’t strictly an academic experience for him. He shared that one of his most memorable accomplishments was being part of residence life:

“I would say what I am most proud of was the mentoring I was able to provide during my time as an RA on Flooders. So many great relationships were forged. Many of them are still strong today.”

While his business booms, Claridge still holds on to his time at LETU, both academically and relationally. He hopes that current LETU students will take advantage of the full college experience that makes up LeTourneau.

“I would say that LeTourneau has so much more to offer than a stellar education—the friendships you make, the experiences you have, the mentorship you give and receive. Make sure you take advantage of it all while you are there. Those few years at LeTourneau are formative for the rest of your life. My time at LeTourneau is something I'll never forget.”