Class of 2016: Camden Thacker finds passion in senior design project
As an engineering freshman, Camden Thacker was busy carrying a typical engineering course load while trying to decide between majoring in mechanical engineering or computer science.
Ultimately, he didn't choose between the two. He will graduate Friday with a mechanical engineering degree with a computer science minor.
While at Virginia Tech, he found a community and his passion.
Thacker claims Oakton, Virginia, as his hometown but he was born in Pittsburgh. He lived in New Jersey for three years, and thanks to his father’s job as a chemical engineer with ExxonMobil (where his mother had also previously worked as a mechanical engineer), he also spent seven years in Singapore before coming back to the U.S.
“While it may be small in size, Singapore provided me with a great childhood experience. It’s truly a special place,” Thacker said. “As an expatriate, I had the opportunity to grow up with people from around the world and engage in a welcoming community comprised of many different cultures.”
That sense of community and welcoming is a large part of what drew him to Virginia Tech. When he visited Blacksburg as a high school senior, he said he knew he’d found his place.
“I fell in love with it. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was different from other schools I had visited. Between the people, the location, the opportunity for international experiences, and the reputation as a top-of-the-line engineering school, I knew this was the place,” he said.
As a former house supervisor with Sigma Chi and a member of the Interfraternity Council’s exec team, Thacker tells freshmen to get involved.
“Go to Gobblerfest, find organizations you’re interested in, meet people, get outside and do things,” he said.
When he arrived on campus, that’s just what he did. He joined the a cappella singing group Naturally Sharp his first year, studied a semester in Australia his second year, and spent an extra semester on campus at the end, culminating in graduation Friday.
“I could have graduated in the spring, but I wanted to slow down and enjoy everything that goes on here a little more before heading off to work,” he said. “After spending one of my fall semesters in Australia, I figured I owed myself one more season of Virginia Tech football.”
Thacker said he’s enjoyed his decision to stay the extra time, and it’s worked out well for him and his future.
“As a junior, I decided to join the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team for my senior design project,” he said.
The HEVT senior design project gave him an opportunity to apply both his disciplines.
“For the 2015-2016 school year, I was the controls sub-team leader. It was an extremely valuable experience, as I was able to learn a lot about different industry equipment and software, interact with sponsors, and hone my project-management skills. The competition we participate in, EcoCAR 3, is aimed to help prepare students for the workforce, particularly within the automotive industry. As far as I’m concerned, it definitely hits the mark.
“The senior design project was also integral to me finding my passion and guiding my career,” he said. “I have enjoyed all of my engineering courses over the past four years, but it really wasn’t until my senior year that I figured out how I wanted to apply the knowledge I gained from them. Working with control systems is a nice combination of computer science and mechanical engineering — developing software for mechanical systems. Without my senior design project, I might not have ever realized my interest in this area.”
Now Thacker is preparing for graduation and another big move, this one to Seattle, where he’ll start work as a software engineer for Microsoft, putting his minor to use.
“A lot of my focus in mechanical engineering has been in controls engineering, but many industry controls positions want people with several years of software experience, so having the computer science minor and getting the position with Microsoft really couldn’t have worked out better.”