A team from Cornell Engineering was among the winners of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar District Cup, a design competition aimed at modelling optimized, distributed solar energy systems... Read more about Cornell Solar District Cup Team takes third place in national competition
- Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
- Electrical and Computer Engineering
Adam Mendrela has wanted to be an engineer ever since he was a child, and not just because his dad is an electrical engineering professor at Louisiana State University. "I liked to play around with Legos, for example—just build things and design things," he says. "I've always wanted to build robots or work in space engineering, that's always seemed exciting to me."
Mendrela visited Cornell with his parents when he was a junior in high school. "I really, really liked the campus. And my parents really, really liked it," says Mendrela, who was born in Australia to Polish parents and spent his early childhood in Europe before his family settled in the United States.
Mendrela liked that he could get a more rounded education at Cornell than at a technical institute. "I also had a friend from my high school who's a year older who went to Cornell and he said that Cornell Engineering really challenges you and it's well respected among employers and grad schools," he says.
During his first year, Mendrela was on the Solar Decathlon team and helped program the ground station for CUSAT, which won the University Nanosat 4 competition and is awaiting launch. Now he's on the electrical subteam for Violet, Cornell's newest satellite project team. "I'm actually in charge of basically wiring up the entire satellite," he says. "We have so many different sensors, sensing location and position, so it's a lot of attitude control determination."
Being on a project team is an extra time commitment, but Mendrela considers it good preparation for a career. "The professional level of the team really helps with understanding how actual teams in companies work," he says. "The communications skills and technical skills all come together."
Mendrela is a brother in the Kappa Sigma fraternity. "The social aspect of it was one reason I joined. I didn't want to be just about school, I wanted to have fun as well," he says. "I guess it's a little bit tougher for engineering students, but it's doable. It's almost like a balancing game. If you want to go to a party, you have to do work before that. It really tests your prioritizing skills."
In high school, Mendrela was pretty serious about playing the piano. "I was actually thinking of going to college for a music major," he says. "I play for the Cornell Catholic mass in Sage Chapel. It allows me to still keep in touch with what I used to do."
This summer, Mendrela will be an intern at GE Aviation in Lynn, Mass. "I'm not sure, but I think I will be simulating control systems for airplane engines with MATLAB," he says.
Mendrela recently decided that he wants to pursue a Ph.D. and hopes to start an undergraduate research project next semester. "I think I'd be more passionate about finding new solutions, than just building from things that you already have," he says.
Being an engineering student at Cornell can be as challenging as you want to make it, says Mendrela. "But if you want to get the full experience at Cornell, you will find yourself being challenged a lot," he says. "The more you want out of Cornell, the more work you have to put into it."