Thomas Vu Nguyen

Thomas Vu Nguyen has received a German Academic Exchange Service Research Internship in Science and Engineering for summer 2021.

Michael Mercier / UAH

Thomas Vu Nguyen, a Department of Mechanical Engineering and Honors student at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, has received a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) for summer 2021.

DAAD RISE offers undergraduates from North American, British and Irish universities the opportunity to complete a summer research internship at top German universities and research institutions.

Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, DAAD RISE interns are matched with a host university according to their area of interest and paired with a Ph.D. student to conduct research projects. Internships last anywhere between nine and 12 weeks between May and August of a student’s sophomore or junior year.

Nguyen was awarded an internship at the Institute of Digital Engineering within the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt in Schweinfurt, Germany.

The project consists of researching gesture-based control options for industrial robots, focusing on the compatibility of the control system for different types of machines. For this project, Nguyen would assist with the experimental setup, including hardware networking. The project’s goal at the end of the internship is the ability to execute a series of simple experiments, which may lead to more complex setups, time permitting.

Requirements for the internship include extensive programming skills, which Nguyen achieved through self-education in several programming languages during summer 2020. He recalls a moment when he was struggling to get out of bed to finish the application.

"As a joke, I said to myself, ‘If you’re going to do it, let’s get it done properly. It’s not about doing the best application ever submitted, but the best one I can do. And how funny would it be if I actually get an offer!’"

Fellowship and Graduate School Advisor Jennifer Staton believes that Thomas’s attitude regarding applications is a great one to have.

"It’s so important for students interested in applying for these opportunities to not compare themselves to other applicants, but rather focus on preparing the best application that they personally can" she says. "That was one of the qualities that impressed me about Thomas during the class HON 201: Scholarship and Graduate School Prep; he was focused on learning about the graduate school and fellowship processes in order to determine what was right for his professional and personal goals, even if these options ultimately didn’t end up being what Thomas wants to pursue."

Originally from Vietnam, Nguyen found that there were limited STEM fellowship opportunities that permitted international students. However, DAAD RISE suited his interests well because the program is open to all undergraduate students who are enrolled in a U.S. university and centers exclusively on STEM research abroad in Germany. Having an interest in undergraduate research and a desire to live and study abroad in another country, Nguyen felt that DAAD RISE was an excellent opportunity.

Nguyen credits taking HON 201 for discovering DAAD RISE.

"I registered for the class not knowing how graduate school and fellowships work, and I came out of it knowing for sure neither of those fit me," he says. "But it did open me up to new opportunities (like DAAD RISE) and helped me become more decisive about what I want to do after college. So, if you’re even just slightly curious or lost about any of those things, do seriously consider taking the class."

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited international travel, and while DAAD RISE has started offering virtual internships, Nguyen ultimately accepted another internship locally to best suit his goals. However, he is very enthusiastic about the opportunities that DAAD RISE provides for all STEM students, and he hopes to be able to travel to Germany someday.