Research experience helps UNL grad land missile-defense job

· 3 min read

Research experience helps UNL grad land missile-defense job

Maj. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves, deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency, administers the oath of office to UNL alumnus Matt Mitchell. (Courtesy photo)

Matt Mitchell’s work is classified.

The Omaha native and recent UNL graduate works for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency. He credits his UNL studies with giving him the skills, engineering background and confidence the agency seeks.

Mitchell earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 2012 and a bachelor’s degree in 2010. The Missile Defense Agency selected him to join its Career Development Program, which provides recent graduates hands-on experience using cutting-edge technology as well as career mentorship.

He will work for two years in the agency’s Huntsville, Ala., facility, rotating through three divisions. In his first rotation, Mitchell analyzed technology trends. Now on his second rotation in advanced technology, his work involves sensors.

Mitchell’s father, an electrical engineer, encouraged his son’s interest in math and science. Mitchell chose to study electrical engineering as well, assuming he’d work in industry.

Then he answered an ad to work as an undergraduate assistant for Lott Professor of Electrical Engineering Yongfeng Lu because, he admits, it sounded better on a resume than moving boxes for UPS, the other job posted at the time.

Research, it turned out, was cool.

“I ended up just kind of loving it,” he said. “They were all working so hard to solve these problems that didn’t have a direct answer, like it wasn’t something that you could just go look up in a book or Google search. You have an idea of what the end goal is, but it’s up to you to figure out how to get there.”

Mitchell started out assisting others, but as a graduate student tackled his own research project: improving the synthesis of gallium nitride, a semiconductor used in Blu-ray and other devices.

He said working in Lu’s lab and taking courses taught him not only engineering and computer skills, but also how to approach a new problem, justify his approach and work independently, yet within a team.

“It helps having a lab full of the smartest people ever. No one hesitated to jump in and help,” he said. “Dr. Lu was great. He treated me as part of the team the whole way. He’s a super busy guy, but he would always take time for me.”

Lu said he’s fortunate Mitchell decided to stay for graduate school. “Matt is very independent, but can work with anyone and was always contributing to the group,” Lu said. “He understands directions and takes action. You can’t just be smart. You have to be willing to be hands-on.”

Mitchell’s proven skills in problem-solving and conquering complex challenges helped him land his position, which he learned about while working with Lu.

“I feel proud of my job here,” he said. “The stakes are high, and it’s something that affects everyone in America. As a first job, I don’t think I could have asked for anything better.”

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