A Whole New World of Opportunities, Experiences and Possibilities!

A Whole New World of Opportunities, Experiences and Possibilities!

By Mihir Vardhan

For as long as I can remember I knew that I wanted to study Engineering. Over the years, that dream took shape and became more specific. I wanted to study Electrical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering. Robotics was the future and I wanted to learn from experts in the field. Sustainability was the need of the hour and I wanted to work with research in sustainability. I knew I needed cutting-edge knowledge and skills to push the bounds and make a meaningful impact through Engineering. I wanted to know if Entrepreneurial Engineering was for me. By my senior year in high school, I knew exactly what I was looking for and where I wanted to study.

And so, for me, it was a dream come true to be accepted to study Electrical Engineering at UIUC, one of the highest ranked Engineering schools in the US – known for its academic rigor, its focus on path-breaking research and its entrepreneurial ecosystem.

And I traveled 7,500 miles from home, excited to take on the world!

I had no idea that there was a lot that I did not know – that college would introduce me to opportunities that I could never have imagined, experiences that I could never have dreamed of and possibilities that were limitless.

UIUC looks for and draws out the best in its students

I am a maker and I have always loved to tinker, build and explore; to open up things around me to see what’s inside and figure out how they work. My projects that started out as simple electrical circuits progressed over time to much more challenging builds. I set up a YouTube channel to share ideas, to learn from feedback shared and to inspire others. 

One of my project ventures led to the development of a robot to efficiently sanitize large spaces and equipment during Covid. When Professor Lav Varshney heard about this project, he offered to connect me with Professor Arijit Banerjee who was working on the most interesting research developing model-free control algorithms for distributed electromagnetic actuators and, thanks to this introduction, I got to be a part of a team working on ground breaking research in my very first year at UIUC!

My Terminator machines got me an introduction to Prof. L. Varshney and Prof. A. Banerjee and on to an amazing research team in my freshman year

UIUC reinforced what I have always believed – that, to learn best, one must apply in real life what one learns in class

There is no better way to explore a field than to understand its application and significance in the real world. One of the best examples I can think of is that I learned about algorithmic stock trading in my ECE Fields and Waves class! Who would have thought?! That the Fields and Waves theory class that I find so fascinating plays such a critical role in multi-million dollar trading transactions; and that the design of cables that run miles below the ocean surface can impact profitability on Wall Street!  

UIUC encourages all-round Engineering excellence

Apart from academic excellence, UIUC actively encourages cutting-edge research, creativity, leadership outside of engineering, entrepreneurial initiative and so much more.

I am really proud to have been awarded 2 of the most prestigious ECE scholarship awards at UIUC – the Siddharth Muthal ECE Undergraduate Student Memorial Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Donald L. Bitzer and H. Gene Slottow Creativity Award.

UIUC affords me experiences like no other

My workshop at home started out as a little yellow tool box that my dad gifted me when I was 6 years old and grew, over time, to take up most of my room at home. But there’s only so much I could do in my room and my bigger projects soon spilled over into our living room (much to my mother’s despair) and  I soon found myself “borrowing” space in the basement of our building to work on my very large project  builds. All my pocket money and gift money went towards tools and equipment.

My workshop at home has taken over my room

While I had read about the amazingly well-e quipped laboratories at UIUC, I had never imagined the resources and equipment made available to students to research, experiment and learn. I had never met professors so crazy about the subjects they taught. 

I got the opportunity to work as a lab assistant at the ECE Open Lab. I was paid to spend time in heaven! I also found myself the most fascinating internship ever at a career fair here. I got to work with the Advanced Concepts team, developing products at Radio Flyer in Chicago. What an incredible, incredible summer!

Talking of exciting experiences? I got to tell my story on The College Tour on Amazon Prime! Thank you UIUC!

UIUC taught me to teach myself

Thousands of miles away from my family, home and culture (and favourite foods!), I learned to deal with challenging courses, high pressure deadlines and a whole new way of life in America. And it was not easy but it was so rewarding. My biggest learning was to not hesitate to ask when I was in doubt.

My new friends at college and I figured that we were all in this together – with similar doubts and pressures – and that made it so much easier for us to deal with all the change. Together we learned that mental and physical health is so important for students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time – and we helped each other deal with stresses that our families may never have been able to help with.

I met friends with the same crazy passions
I now understand the love for football

UIUC introduced me to new friends and family and a whole new way of life

I first came to campus when the Covid 1st wave was at its peak. I was quarantined in my dorm room for 14 days. I could not meet anyone and classes were online. I missed home terribly and wondered if this was really such a great idea travelling so far from my home, my family, my dog and warm, sunny Gurgaon.

Very soon, however, Champaign became my second home, Green Street became a favorite hangout and I had so many friends of different nationalities. 

I found frozen Illinois so warm and welcoming. Many of my friends have invited me to their homes.

Ben, Gabe and me at an amazing career fair Ben and me in Papa’s fascinating workshop

Ben & Gabe introduced me to their grandparents, Sharon and Mark Hamilton; and Nana and Papa opened up their home to me.

Papa has the most fascinating home workshop ever – on his massive farm in Champaign. Papa himself has to be amongst the most passionate makers I have met. Ben and I have worked on several projects there and Papa allows me to tinker around his workshop within the bounds of his strict safety guidelines. I love that I get to work with Papa, Ben & Gabe on projects on the farm.

With Nana, Papa and their dog Charlie
Papa supervising us on a job

I have made so many absolutely amazing friends here at UIUC and I know that these are friendships for a lifetime.

I came to UIUC to study Electrical Engineering and to be a part of the amazing university ecosystem here and I have experienced so, so much more.

UIUC opened up a whole new world of unimaginable opportunities, exhilarating experiences and limitless possibilities for me!  

Mihir Vardhan

At his day job, Mihir is a Junior at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, studying Electrical Engineering at the Grainger School of Engineering. After hours, Mihir is a passionate maker and a hands-on engineer. His single biggest project is his most recent one – the conversion of his grandfather’s gasoline car to electric in what is possibly the simplest (and strangest!) conversion yet. Check out the conversion here. Mihir believes the project that landed the most real-world impact was his design and production of large-volume UVC sanitizer units and a UVC sanitizer robot when the Covid outbreak hit. Mihir has won two of Illinois ECE’s prestigious scholarship awards - the Donald L. Bitzer & H. Gene Slottow Creativity Award for most inventiveness in a design project, awarded for the innovative technique Mihir used to convert a petrol car to diesel; and the Siddharth Muthal ECE Undergraduate Student Memorial Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his start up, ‘Making with Mihir’, set up to produce affordable and accessible engineering solutions to combat COVID-19. Mihir was also one of the 3 engineering students selected to represent the Grainger College of Engineering on the UIUC episode of The College Tour on Amazon Prime. You can learn more about Mihir at www.mihirvardhan.com and you can learn more about his projects on his YouTube channel, Making With Mihir.