My name is Anuj Thakkar, and I’m a Benjamin N. Duke Full Merit Scholar at Duke University. At Duke, I’m studying Mechanical Engineering alongside the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate. As of August 2018, my active projects include EV360: Constructing an Electric Monowheel, AirCloud: A Device for Eliminating Ambient Air Pollution, E-Drones: A Promotional Video around Edible Chocolate Drones, and OptiML: Automated Retinal Imaging and Diagnostics amongst others. I’m an artist, an engineer, and a team leader. Welcome to my E-Portfolio.
I’m a senior in Mechanical Engineering at Duke University. If you were to ask most of my friends today, there’s nothing that could be a better fit; outside of class, I spend 40 hours a week, at least, in an engineering shop, working on my motorcycle, or refining the levitating speaker I designed, or planning some other engineering project. I worked at Tesla this past summer, and designed a novel chocolate- vermicelli composite that allows chocolate to fly; few of my peers today can imagine that at any time in my life, engineering wasn’t a core part of my identify.
But in fact, the majority of my life, engineering couldn’t have been further from who I am. In high school, most of my peers thought I would be an English major. At that time, I had written two novels, led a regional literary magazine, and worked for another international literary magazine; it was the obvious path for me. In science competitions, my peers knew amongst them that if there was a task requiring fabrication or engineering, avoid Anuj. I was so extremely inept in engineering, I would cause everything to fail.
But graduating from high school, English just didn’t feel right; honestly, nothing did. I came to Duke because in many ways, it was the convenient choice—it was close by my home, Raleigh, and it had lots of different options to explore. So explore I did: I changed my major. And I changed my major again. I changed my major again. In my first two years at Duke, I changed my major five times—until I finally landed on my current major, Mechanical Engineering.
So how did I end up on Mechanical Engineering—a major so different from English, and to so many of my peers a few years prior, the worst fit possible? Though freshman year of college was one of the most academically challenging times I had ever faced; at the end of any day and on weekends, I wouldn’t go home, spend time with friends, or go out and party. Instead, at midnight, 1 am, or later, after I had finished all my work, I would find myself going to Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab, a makerspace with numerous fabrication tools, using the engineering technologies in the space to design and fabricate really unique decorations or trinkets for my friends to keep. And over time, I got better and better, designing more complex and unique gifts for my friends.
I realized that for me, the process of design, engineering, and fabrication was a release from all the stress of my other courses. And even more, the surprise and awe that my gifts would evoke from their recipients was immensely heartwarming. It felt as if I found something I finally enjoyed, something that could be my career, area of study, and leisurely release all at the same time, while being also immensely rewarding: Mechanical Engineering. It’s what I was doing anyways, and studying the field would only make me better at designing and fabricating devices, technologies, and trinkets that could evoke a positive response from their recipients.
Since I made that decision, my desire to build products that evoke a positive response, or that have a positive impact on the lives of individuals around me has only grown. Honestly, the field in which that desire unfurls is not extremely important to me; I’ve worked in areas ranging from medical devices to improve eye care to battery storage technology to help provide more secure energy access to regions with unstable grid systems. But the impact is the same—folks’ lives get better. People are thankful. The work I do designing, building, and implementing physical products has a positive impact on others’ lives.
In the short term, I hope to work at an organization that has already established their own product that is having this impact, and learn both the design, manufacturing, and delivery process from experienced professionals, while also starting to engage in coursework in entrepreneurship to expose myself to non- engineering skills required to commercialize a product. Moving forward after building out this experience, I hope that I’ll have developed adequate skills to spearhead the design, development, and commercialization of my own product. That’s a ways out, but I’m looking forward to the journey to get there.