Rebecca Chery (pictured on the right) presenting to an industry panel during the PREP program's design challenge. (Photo by Daniel McGlynn)

PREP by design

Before she started her first day of classes this year as a Berkeley Engineering freshman, Rebecca Chery had already designed a smart door opener targeted toward people with physical challenges and pitched it to a panel of industry executives.

That opportunity was made possible through PREP, a three-week program that gives incoming engineering majors a head start on academics, networking and professional development. This year was the first time a design component (a partnership with the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation) was included in the curriculum.

For the challenge, students were grouped into small teams and tasked to identify a real-world problem and develop a prototype that solved the issue — all within two-and-a-half weeks.

“Even though I had some exposure to the Arduino technology we used to create the smart door opener, I was initially terrified about presenting the project,” says Chery, an electrical engineering and computer sciences (EECS) major.

But thanks to the help of PREP mentors, she quickly rose above her fear of public speaking. PREP director Marvin Lopez encouraged Chery to talk about how the smart door opener could benefit someone she knew personally.

“I used that sort of mindset in the presentation, and it helped a lot,” Chery says. “After our team saw the positive reactions from the panel and our peers, it was worth it.”

Her team of four included another EECS major, as well as a bioengineering and an energy engineering major. Using equipment at the Jacobs Institute’s makerspace, they created a phone case with a keyfob inside that would trigger a door to open once the phone case detected a sensor in close proximity. The prototype was chosen by the PREP students as their favorite project from the design challenge.

Chery, who is interested in pursuing a computer programming career in the security field, says the design challenge helped her learn about the different perspectives of other engineering disciplines. It also gave her insight on how to work efficiently under tight time constraints.

Just as valuable, though, were the professional skills she gained from pitching her team’s prototype to a panel of executives.

“Now I’m prepared for when I have to present projects in the future,” she says. “That experience was extremely helpful.”

Read more about PREP's impact.