The UNH-IOL: A Transformative Journey from High School to College

Joel Nkounkou, a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) working towards his computer engineering degree, is also a three year veteran at the UNH-IOL. He began his time at the lab in 2013 when he was accepted into the UNH-IOL High School Summer Internship Program. His engineering teacher at Dover High School told him about the program and his family encouraged him to apply. Initially, Joel worked in the Home Networking Consortium (HNC) alongside industry professionals, gaining real-world experience before he even reached his senior year of high school. After the internship, he applied to become an employee at the lab and was hired into the storage groups, where he stays busy testing SAS, SATA and PCle technologies.

Before Joel’s internship, UNH was not a top selection in his list of potential colleges. He wanted to get out of New England and head south to schools like Virginia Tech. Upon accepting and completing the High School Internship his mind changed. “Work at the lab definitely influenced my decision for college.” Joel says, “After realizing the impact it had when graduating with 4 years of professional experience alongside a degree of my major (computer engineering), that definitely put it in perspective for myself and slid UNH to #1 on my list.” Not only does the UNH-IOL provide exposure to the industry alongside training for the future, it cultivates an interest in the University as a whole. High School students who work at the lab are exposed to the campus on a daily basis. Whether it’s lunch on Main Street, or seminars at Kingsbury in the engineering department, students working at the lab have opportunities to experience UNH and gain valuable insight during their college decision process.

Working at the lab has also helped Joel in his curriculum at school. The work that he does at the lab is equivalent to what professional engineers do in industry. It has offered conceptual knowledge that Joel uses for problem-solving in the classroom. From in-lab training, to hands-on applications, the UNH-IOL is focused on educating the future generation of engineers. Joel is excited to apply what he has learned from the lab in his future classes when they get much more difficult.

On top of opportunities in education, the UNH-IOL also offers opportunities to travel and experience the industry at a global level. This past Spring, Joel had the opportunity to attend Interop Las Vegas as an Interop Team Member. Working with vendors and business professionals, Joel built an IP and Wifi network from scratch for the expo show and saw first hand how these networks are used in real-world applications. On top of these amazing experiences, Joel also got to network with industry professionals and exchange personal emails, phone numbers, and business cards. This valuable experience opened up countless doors for Joel in his future as an engineer. All this was made possible and had been cultivating since he joined the UNH-IOL as a high school intern.

In finishing his last years at UNH, Joel will leave the UNH-IOL and the University with over four years of unmatched engineering expertise. While his classmates are searching for internships to get them a foot in the door, Joel is already equipped with knowledge that employers won’t find in typical new graduates or even those that have held internships. With all the great things that the UNH-IOL can provide, it’s easy to forget the best part - Joel was given access to the labs resources and has been able to explore his passions ever since. Though he will likely be burdened with choosing between potential job offers, in the end Joel and fellow IOLers never find it easy to leave the place where their career began.