WIU-QC Alumni Spotlight: Michael Berggren

Meet Michael Berggren, a WIU-QC graduate who was recently featured in the local news when his project — which he began working on while a student at WIU-QC — received FAA certification. Like many WIU-QC students, Berggren was an adult student who commuted to campus (from his hometown of Galesburg, Illinois) to pursue his bachelor’s degree. Learn in his interview below about the specific courses and experiences — including, even, a quadcopter crash! — that led him to his successful role with Elliott Aviation.

photo of a young man posing in front of an airplane, while holding a large iPad
Berggren poses at the Elliott Aviation hangar with a plane supplied with the software.

Interview with Michael Berggren

Where do you work and what is your current job title?
I work at Elliott Aviation as a design engineer.

What was your major and when did you graduate?
My major was General Engineering, and I graduated in May 2017.

two young men in front of an airplane looking at an iPad screen

Berggren, left, works with fellow WIU-QC Engineering alumnus Jonathan Wenthold, with whom he started the design project. Both Berggren and Wenthold were hired by Elliott Aviation thanks in part to their senior design project and subsequent internship with the company.

Why did you choose this major?
I’ve always liked solving problems. Engineering just seemed like a way of turning that into a career.

What did you like most about your major?
As an engineer, I’m learning new things and being challenged every day. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but I’ve learned if I stick with it, the reward is always worth the effort.

What is required of you in your position?
I’m lucky to have a job where I’m expected to do my own research to find solutions to a myriad of issues. Whether I’m presented with a programming issue or need to design an aircraft antenna installation, I am required to utilize the resources available to me to find a safe and sound solution. It was a little overwhelming at first, but my time at WIU-QC prepared me well for dealing with this kind of workload.

How did WIU-QC prepare you for your job?
The engineering professors at WIU-QC have high expectations for their students. At times, it felt like they were almost too high. It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I was very mistaken regarding the limits of my capabilities. In fact, being an older, non-traditional student, it was easy to get into the habit of not pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I’m thankful for the engineering faculty for breaking me of this habit.

During a visit from his former professor, Berggren has the opportunity to switch roles and teach, displaying some of his work processes at Elliott Aviation.

What did you like the most about your experience at WIU-QC?
I absolutely loved my experiences at WIU-QC. Even when I had the flu during finals week of the hardest semester of my college career, I felt like I had finally found a place where I belonged. The students in the program bring so many different perspectives and abilities, that working with others became a bit of an education in itself. So many classes require a group project. There were times when it felt a little over the top, but looking back on it, these projects and the people I worked on them with are among the fondest of my WIU-QC memories.

Why did you choose WIU-QC for higher education?
There aren’t many engineering schools to choose from in Illinois. There are even fewer within driving distance. I was living in Galesburg at the time, and WIU-QC seemed like an easy decision to make. It was significantly cheaper than other options, and I could still commute. In other words, I could continue to be around my friends and family without incurring significant debt—both of which are things that I really liked.

Why would you recommend WIU-QC to another person?
WIU-QC’s engineering program is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t like being challenged or feeling overwhelmed, it won’t be a good fit for you. However, if you enjoy the feeling of personal satisfaction from hard work, if you have no issues with seeking out assistance from your professors, and if you’re self-motivated, then you should look into it. Western is a big school, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the engineering program.

What was your favorite class/who was your favorite professor? Why?
I thoroughly enjoyed many of my classes. Furthermore, the professors are wonderful, patient, and excited to help students who are willing to put in the required effort. Picking a favorite professor is hard, though. I liked them all so much, but if I was forced to pick a favorite class, it would have been Computational Methods with Dr. Shin. I know it’s not a very common favorite, but I truly enjoyed the challenge and the idea of finding solutions to problems in entirely new ways.

two men sit inside an airplane

During a visit from his former professor, Dr. Shin, Berggren explains and displays elements of the plane’s cabin lighting. Bergren began the project as one of Shin’s students and saw it through to completion as an employee of Elliott Aviation.

Can you share a memory of your time at WIU-QC that you often think about?
I previously mentioned the many group projects that engineering students have. In my senior year I was in a group where we got to build a quadcopter. It was so much fun! In fact, my group found a way to expand the project so that we could use it in two of our classes. Unfortunately, once we got the quadcopter functioning, we had a slight mishap. I would never recommend crashing an expensive quadcopter into an even more expensive automobile, especially when that automobile belongs to a faculty member! Let’s be clear: I wasn’t the person flying the quadcopter at the time, but the resulting fallout led to a grounding of all further airborne engineering projects. Dr. Pratt was not happy, but hopefully we can all look back and laugh at that unfortunate incident. (P.S. – We still got an A!)

If you could go back to your time at WIU-QC, what would you do differently?
One thing is for certain, I would have set aside more time in the beginning than I originally did. Everything you learn in the program builds on what came before it. If you don’t feel like you understand a topic as well as you should, then go back and look it over while it’s still fresh in your mind. Spending time to backfill your knowledge base after the fact can be painful. There are no easy outs in engineering, but there are plenty of ways to make things harder for yourself.

What advice can you offer to current college students who might be interested in going into your field?
I think the biggest piece of advice is to focus on school. Focus. Focus. Focus. Engineering is one of those degrees where you don’t get the typical college experience. It’s rigorous for a reason. Don’t expect to have much of a social life while you’re in school. You’re there for one reason and one reason only: to get that diploma! Trust me, if you take this approach, you will be able to reap some pretty incredible benefits after graduation. You will have a career that will be able to provide a comfortable life for you and the ones you love. In my opinion, that makes missing out on a few years of parties and pranks well worth it.

What is one thing about your job that you didn’t expect, or that might surprise a current college student?
Probably the most surprising thing is the level of confidence that people place in me and my work. I didn’t expect to ever be the guy with all the answers, and even though I’m still not that person, that doesn’t stop the questions. Everyday at my job is different, and there’s no end in sight to unique challenges for which I will get to find answers. What engineer could possibly want anything more?

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