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ViaSat interns present projects, earn employment

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This summer, 17 students from six colleges and universities worked on five new projects for Carlsbad-based ViaSat.

Listening to their presentations Friday, one could have mistaken many of the interns for seasoned professionals.

Projects covered a range of topics -- encrypted video, knowledge database, modem enhancement for IP voice over DSL, CMOS ring oscillator and satellite hub signal canceller.

Interns worked in small teams under the guidance of ViaSat employees to see the project through from conception to real-life application.

“ViaSat has a huge growth plan,” said Frances Abrams, project director for engineering at ViaSat (Nasdaq: VSAT). “New graduates are a huge part of that in the foreseeable future.”

She said the team internship is a good way to see how potential employees will work with the technology and within the company. It prepares students for the work force, where they will spend much of their time working in teams.

And it allowed the interns to put to test what they have learned in classes while developing their knowledge beyond what is found in a textbook.

“There’s no possible way we could get this experience in academic environments,” said Stephan Kemper, an undergraduate student at the University of California, San Diego, during his presentation.

He and his teammates were exposed to more of the business side of engineering -- working with vendors and facing the harsh reality of financial restrictions.

The students also were able to determine what career path they might want, and now can better select their courses when returning to school.

“It gave me a better perspective at school,” said Nick Berndsen, a graduate student at Rice University. “I can choose classes that help more with what I want to do.”

Engineering programs offer a variety of courses, but working at ViaSat gave him the chance to decide which path he wants to take in the field.

Berndsen was offered a full-time position with ViaSat when he graduates this winter. He was in the unique position of having the job offer before the internship started.

But at the end of the summer, many of the interns were offered either another internship next summer or a full-time position if they are graduating in the next year.

There were 17 interns working with the teams that presented Friday, but a total of 70 were working at ViaSat this summer, up from 35 last year, Abrams said.

Students who perform well often are offered jobs during their final review.

But students are not the only ones who benefit from the internship program.

“We benefit from their exposure to the latest technology, and the fact they don’t know there’s a box to work outside of,” Abrams said.

She said the students’ energy and eagerness to succeed can rub off on the seasoned professionals with whom they are working.

Last year, Brian Walkington, an engineer at ViaSat, had one intern. This year, he worked with a team of interns who created the ViaSat KdB, or knowledge database, that will make accessing documents easier for employees.

“The energy is infective,” he said of his group.

Engineer Mark Matteson also worked with the group, and said he was impressed with how well this year’s teams worked together and accomplished their goals. Matteson also has worked one-on-one with interns before, but decided to move to the teams this year.

“We were all surprised at how productive they were,” he said. “We were hoping to have one proof of concept, and we had three.”

The knowledge database already has been tested once. Walkington and Matteson said they will continue the tests and ultimately implement the program.

The students appreciated that their work will live on past their time at ViaSat.

“I feel the teams got to work on something useful,” Berndsen said. “Things that the company will use or sell.”

Send your comments to Erin.Bridges@sddt.com

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