Co-op/Intern Spotlight: Tianna McKenzie

Tia McKenzie

Tia McKenzie is currently a junior at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott, Arizona campus. She is studying Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Robotics. She is also pursuing a minor in Mathematics. Last summer, she interned at Zipline International as a Flight Operator, Controller, and Test Engineer. Zipline International designs, manufactures, and operates delivery drones that deliver critical and lifesaving products where they are needed in Rwanda, Ghana, and the United States.

What advice do you have for students interested in obtaining an internship at Zipline?

Something I’ve realized is that a lot of the other applicants you are up against will have much of the same technical abilities and knowledge as you. What makes you stand out is your ability to communicate and your genuine interest in the company! Do you know a company’s core values and a company’s mission statement? Make sure you figure out how you can demonstrate these values on cover letters and in interviews.

How did this experience help you solidify your future career aspirations?

Before taking this internship with Zipline last summer, I was feeling very burnt out with classes. It all felt so conceptual and I was beginning to question if engineering was for me anymore. I studied to get A’s and not necessarily to learn for my future career. After my internship at Zipline I felt completely inspired! Seeing what you’ve learned in the classroom being applied to industry was exhilarating. I came back to Embry-Riddle with a determination to learn for application and not necessarily for grades. I was also much more interested in class content for personal projects that Zipline had inspired me to take on. I conducted risk reviews for tests that the engineers wanted to conduct; this exposed me to a range of very experienced technical engineers. I realized at Zipline the type of engineering I enjoy as well as the type of engineering I probably don’t want to do in the future. It was very eye-opening as to what an actual electrical/aerospace/mechanical etc. engineer does from the day-to-day.

What skills came in handy and what skills did you develop?

MATLAB skills came in extremely handy! No matter what your job description may be, having the toolbox to also branch out and go above and beyond is amazing. I wasn’t required to know any CAD software or any programming language to be a Test Engineering Intern at Zipline and yet I utilized my CATIA, Solidworks, and MATLAB skills to be the most useful and valuable test engineer there. I was able to make simulations for the engineers to better understand the test results and even made suggestions for running tests more effectively by designing a few different parts. Especially as an intern for a startup company like Zipline, the ability to be flexible and hard working are both very important.

Do you think it was important to complete and internship/co-op?

I think it was the best and most helpful decision of my college career. I even switched majors from Aerospace Engineering to Mechanical Engineering because of it. The internship gave me insight into my future after school and helped me figure out the type of company I want to be working for! It gave me insight into company culture and working with a team comprised of people from all ages and backgrounds. It taught me what it meant to be a valuable team member better than any project I worked on in school – usually with my friends.

How did you obtain your internship with Zipline?

Use the contacts that you have! My Aunt knew someone whose husband worked at Zipline and were discussing possibly starting a Zipline base in Kenya. My family lives in Kenya, and we ended up directly giving advice to the Zipline employee’s family on life out there. That is how I heard about Zipline in the first place, and a year later I let the man who worked at Zipline know I was applying and he gave me a reference. If you have a contact or friends who work at companies you might consider working for one day, it is super important to keep those contacts strong. They may make the difference in getting you application seen and act as an automatic reference of your character and abilities.