Undergraduate Speaker Finds Lessons in Unexpected Places

Celine Khoo wants her fellow graduates to know that it’s okay not to know exactly what you’re doing next.

Celine Khoo
Khoo attended SWE's WE21, the world's largest conference for women engineers and technologists, in Indianapolis last year.

The Ossining, New York, native, who will deliver remarks as the undergraduate speaker during the College of Engineering’s graduation ceremonies on June 8, is walking with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, master’s in electrical and telecommunications engineering and a graduate certificate in systems design and development. But, like many students, her journey began as an undecided engineering major.

“I was very unsure of what major I was going to end up in,” Khoo recalls. “I think I considered almost every engineering major out there. Eventually, I thought back to my science classes and robotics club in high school, and I realized that I always have liked the logic behind computer and electrical work.”

Once she landed in computer engineering, Khoo found her footing quickly. Her first co-op was as a systems engineer with L3Harris Technologies, a government, defense and commercial contractor. She would go on to work part-time there after returning to class and stayed on for a second co-op cycle.

“It was incredible to get a high level of hands-on experience so early in my education,” Khoo says. “I got to work on components that would go into the next generation of Air Force satellites and on proposals with the new business capture team. That helped me realize that I like being in a competitive work environment and meeting challenging deadlines. That’s not necessarily something I expected from an engineering co-op.”

Khoo’s third co-op was at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory as a Field-programmable gate array (FPGA) Developer. She was responsible for maintaining a test bed to assess communications protocols for radar, sensors and other devices.

“It was totally different from my previous co-op,” she says. “I had been writing technical proposals and trying to understand things at a 3000-foot view, and then I was suddenly zooming in on specific tests and fixing individual components. That gave me, I think, a good range of different roles that I could fit into.”

Looking back on her experience at Drexel, Khoo says that the aspect of college life that benefitted her in the most unexpected way was the role that student organizations played in her growth. Throughout her five years, Khoo has been an active member and served on the leadership boards of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) student groups.

“I think many people choose Drexel because of the co-op program, and for good reason,” Khoo says. “But what’s not talked about enough is the support systems you get through student groups. IEEE helped me make a lot of friends within my department quickly, which was super helpful whenever I needed help in my classes. And SWE introduced me to a lot of inspirational role models — women engineers who had come before me and gone on to success. I don't think I realized how much more colorful and how much more interesting student organizations would make my life.”

After graduation, Khoo will return to MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory full time. She is confident that, even if she hadn’t found work through her co-op, she would be prepared to take on any role.

Her advice to those who, like herself five years ago, are still trying to find their way?

“If there’s anything I learned as an undecided major, it’s that everyone is figuring it out as they go,” she says. “That’s kind of what engineering is.”