Grossmont College student Thong Vo earned a spot as one of Base 11’s paid fellows at UCI’s Samueli School of Engineering this summer. He lived on campus, received mentorship from an engineering grad student, and worked on a team with other community college students to design and build a working drone. He recently shared his reflections on this summer engineering experience.

Thong Vo, Base 11 FellowThe amazing summer engineering experience that I had at UCI can be vividly described as “learning by doing.” The program helped me experience the real industrial environment by providing me the opportunity to do the actual job that engineers do, and in the process, I was able to learn some very helpful lessons in order to improve myself both academically and professionally.

1. Apply your theories and knowledge.

In a society where everything is being made to be practical, it is essential for students, especially engineering majors, to participate and apply the knowledge that they learn from their lessons.

In our project, we first learned how to design the shape for the quadcopter by using SolidWorks, a program that was completely new to me at the beginning of the summer. We had to consider a lot of aspects to make sure the quadcopter could fly. Then we used Arduino to provide the codes for the altitude mapping, which is used to identify the position of the quadcopter in space.

During the fellowship, we were taught about the necessary theories. But it was through applying those theories combined with our basic knowledge in math and physics, that we could actually experience them in real life, through quadcopter that we were building.

2. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

Thong Vo with teammates at UCIOf course, this doesn’t mean you try everything unintentionally. However, if you think what you’re about to do is right, but you’re unsure about it, just give it a shot. It’s definitely an opportunity for you to learn something, especially when you try to do it yourself.

Because we were all inexperienced, our team made a ton of mistakes in designing, manufacturing, programming and testing our quadcopter. However, thanks to those mistakes, we now know how to use SolidWorks, Arduino, fabrication tools, and lots of other practical aspects of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Moreover, by making mistakes and learning from them, we became more confident about working through problems when anything unexpected happens.

3. You can’t do anything alone.

Businesses now expect students graduating from college to know how to work effectively in teams. Therefore, putting team members’ ideas together is an important skill that every student should practice.

In designing and building our quadcopter, it was important for our team to evaluate and choose the best ideas. Thus, everybody in our group contributed ideas. Working in this environment helped me learn how to defend my opinions in front of other group members, and also helped me clarify my point of view.

Teamwork also encouraged us to listen to each other and respect one another’s ideas as we worked toward finding the best solution for each problem.

Thanks to this experience, I feel more confident and prepared for pursuing my bachelor’s degree at a four-year university, as well as going further. Also, I want to inspire college students, especially those from community colleges, to be confident to seek out opportunities that can help them have real-world experiences and learn from their own mistakes as well as their peers.

To learn how you can apply for Base 11’s summer fellowship program, visit