ACE Talks: It Started with Her

June 23, 2022 – What started as a search for work experience turned into open doors of opportunity for Neeki Meshkat. An ACE Talks webinar introduced her to IACMI’s Joannie Harmon…who encouraged her to take the ACE online training…which allowed her to join the in-person bootcamp for CNC machining…that gave her the skills to do research and secure an internship in a field she loves. It’s a great ACE success story that feels like If You Give a Moose a Muffin, but let’s back up to the beginning.

Meshkat is a rising junior studying biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT). She started her college experience towards the beginning of the pandemic when finding in-person opportunities was a challenge. “I was looking at any chance to get hands-on engineering experience. It was tough enough to find anything during Covid, but no one was looking for freshmen. They all wanted someone older.”

So, when she received an invite to ACE Talks, Meshkat put her initiative in action. She engaged with experts with questions and followed up by email with the moderator, Joannie Harmon, IACMI’s Workforce Director. Joannie recalls, “I was so impressed with Neeki. She recognized ACE was a great opportunity and she went after it.” Harmon encouraged her to not only take the online ACE Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining course but dive into the in-person bootcamp as well, which she did the summer of 2021.

“The online course was completely new information for me. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, but they walked through the process of machining clearly,” says Meshkat. “Then the in-person training was the perfect way to give hands-on experience for even a novice like me. They weren’t just machining something in front of you but letting you do it yourself. That makes a huge difference in learning something.”

Meshkat’s father, who’s been an engineer for 40 years, was amazed she was getting to work on CNC machines. “He was a little jealous and wanted to know if he could come.” Though Meshkat is interested in designing medical devices, she understands it’s important to know the manufacturing side too. “I feel like that bridge really needs to be there between designers and manufacturers because you can design something super cool for a patient but if it’s impossible to manufacture, you’re wasting your time.”

Meshkat is currently focused on devices used in knee surgeries. Her ACE training helped her get a research position in the Center for Musculoskeletal Research on the UT campus where she helps track performance of total knee replacement devices. After meeting the VP of R&D for Robotics and Surgical Enablers at Smith & Nephew, a 160-year-old company that manufactures these devices, she pursued an internship with them.

Then a sophomore, Meshkat was steadily building her resume, but Suzanne Sawicki in the Office of Engineering Professional Practice Ambassador’s Program of the Tickle College of Engineering was doubtful. “In my 16 years working in this office and with Smith & Nephew, they NEVER bring on board anyone who is not a junior or above,” says Sawicki. “It was obvious that her knowledge, background, and training from the ACE program was the deal maker.”

Meshkat began her internship earlier this month and says it’s been wonderful. “I’m learning so much through assigned projects and with the help of the engineers here, I’m hoping to improve parts of the manufacturing process at the Smith & Nephew Oxinium facility.”

Meshkat affirms she was never treated differently as one of the few women in the ACE program so far. She hopes to boost those numbers by engaging in groups such as the Society of Women Engineers and supporting programs like Tomorrow’s Engineers Today. “We host elementary to high school girls and teach them about how awesome STEM can be with speakers and demonstrations. We teach them about careers they may not know about and be that example for them.” She’s grateful Joannie Harmon took the time to encourage her; so now she looks for ways to inspire other young ladies. “She was there for me and so helpful. I don’t think I would have been able to get my internship without the ACE training. It started with her.”