By Jade Kim, Student Success Specialist at Base 11 

Sergio Sandoval knew he was destined for a career in STEM as early as elementary school, where he took a deep interest in math and science. Flash forward to present day, Sergio is now on his way to becoming a highly skilled engineering professional while pursuing a degree in electrical engineering as a senior at University of California, Irvine. His path to get there however, wasn’t always straightforward; he realized soon after high school that in order to be successful, he needed to go beyond the classroom and into the real world.

Work-based learning has often been touted as the key to making sure students are well-prepared and remain competitive when entering the workforce. Despite this, community college students often find it difficult to land meaningful, work-based experiences in the STEM industries they wish to start a career in.

“To be honest, my biggest obstacle was finding my first internship. There were a couple of years right out of high school that I didn’t grow in technical aspects within my chosen interests,” said Sergio. “After I started exposing myself a little more, I found myself with a lot more substance and knowledge in the opportunities I applied for.”

That’s when Sergio found Base 11.

“When I heard about Base 11’s fellowships and mission, I knew it was for me. I am an underrepresented student in the STEM field that was having trouble finding their first opportunity. I knew I possessed the work ethic, interest, and entry level experience to look for that next jump in my career. When I was filling out the application, I felt very aligned with Base 11’s mission and also felt confident in my ability to capitalize on any opportunity,” said Sergio.

Sergio was accepted into the Base 11 Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy Fellowship Program at UCI during the summer of 2018, where he spent eight weeks living on campus learning how to design, program, build and fly a drone. The Base 11 Fellowship Program is designed to provide students with the hands-on, experiential learning they need to be successful in real-world STEM jobs.

“The biggest takeaway for me was the hands-on technical exposure to all things rockets, including the industry, the science, and the different sub-disciplines it’s made of. This experience has enabled me to make meaningful contributions to the rocketry team at UCI, and has also enabled me to land my current internship,” said Sergio.

That current internship is at ABL Space Systems, a Southern California based launch startup that builds rockets to launch small satellites. Sergio is an avionics intern who was the primary contributor of the cable/wiring harnessing of the full launch vehicle.

“This was awesome in and of itself, but the coolest part for me was being able to work with all of the other sub-systems and teams to mature the system together as a team,” said Sergio. “Wire harnessing plays a big part in vehicle integration and a lot of this was still on the drawing board when I got there. So it was fun and motivating for me to be that guy owning a key part of the vehicle and make meaningful contributions to the overall vehicle design.”

Experiential internships like Base 11 and ABL’s are the key to equipping students with both the hard and soft skills they need to remain competitive in the many growing STEM fields.

“I was given the same expectations and responsibilities as a full-time employee, so I was able to get a good gauge of what how it is to work in the industry and what I need to work on as a young professional,” Sergio continued.

The experience Sergio has gained will ultimately help him land the career of his dreams, where he hopes to be a major role player in a company participating in the commercialization of space. However, his aspirations do not stop there.

“An ideal world for me is one where we put the stability and health of our world and species before any sort of differences that exist among us. I believe if we align ourselves with this mission, we will have major breakthroughs for the long-term benefit of everyone and our home,” said Sergio. “We’re past the point of no return according to some scientists and I think it is more crucial than ever to put our feet flat on the ground and look at the world we’ll be leaving behind.”

Sergio belongs to a group of emerging engineers who wish to use their highly sought-after skillsets to expand humanity’s presence in space while also improving the planet they live on, a mission that will certainly resound for generations to come. As for his advice to younger students just starting their journeys?

“It’s never too early to start thinking about the future. The more prepared you are in knowing what you want to do the easier it will be to navigate through high school and college.”