When asked about his next move, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior Josh Sharkey says, “I’m keeping my eyes wide open, looking ahead.” The computer engineering major is well on his way to a bright future by building an impressive resume of internships at home and abroad.
Josh knew he wanted to study computer engineering before even entering college, thanks to an HTML class at Riverside University High School. “I spent all of my time on computers and felt like I still didn’t know how they worked,” he said.
At Riverside, he worked with College Possible coaches who helped him navigate the college application process and made him a competitive applicant. “College Possible boosted my ACT score by six points and helped me get into school,” Josh said. His natural curiosity in computers made choosing an area of study easy, Josh entered UWM a pre-declared computer engineering major.
After his first year at UWM Josh had a 3.8 GPA and thought college would be easy, but sophomore year was a challenge. He lived off campus, worked more hours at a second job and had a demanding class load. He failed some classes and was placed on academic probation. After that, he decided to leave school and took a job working at a restaurant and another as an apprentice in the trades.
“I got a taste of what life would be like if I didn’t go back to school. It felt like a lot of my options were limited without a college degree.”
After a few months Josh’s boss asked what his plan was for returning to college and encouraged him to reach out to his advisor from UWM. Josh listened and started taking the steps necessary to re-enroll as a computer engineering student.
“When I came back I was on academic probation, had to obtain repeat permissions and I was ineligible for financial aid,” he said.
Josh worked with his advisor on creating a plan and was told he could receive financial aid under the condition that he never failed another course. He had to retake four courses and follow strict guidelines that would allow him to complete the classes the necessary for his major.
Despite the pressure, Josh rose to the occasion.
Now a senior in the computer engineering program, Josh is thriving. He found a social network of engineering students to study with and joined WiscAMP, a mentoring program for underrepresented students pursuing STEM fields.
This year, Josh will be a mentor to four UWM students in the engineering department as part of WiscAMP.
“I look forward to that. There are a lot of times where you find yourself giving advice because you’ve dealt with something and have good advice to give. I always find myself giving those cheat codes or hacks about professors or how to study or making it through.”
In addition to his leadership opportunities, Josh is gaining valuable work experience as an engineer. He’s explored data science, web development, cyber security and app production in a variety of professional settings to get a better idea of where he sees himself after graduation.
One of the most impactful experiences was a study abroad opportunity in Taiwan. Josh, along with three other UWM students, spent three weeks in Taiwan as part of an exchange program with Chung Yuan Christian University.
The experience included industry visits to a nuclear plant, an incineration plant, an innovation center and a production facility. As part of the program, Josh worked with a research professor and a group of international students on making improvements to a water-resistant drone design.
“I had never done anything like that. It was nice because they kind of just threw you in it and didn’t expect much, but the sky was the limit if you had the experience or desire to make something happen.”
He also started learning Mandarin, something he hopes to continue, and went surfing for the first time.
Stateside, Josh has participated in professional opportunities that have connected him with organizations like the Medical College of Wisconsin and Manpower Group. He also worked as an innovation consultant for the Greater Milwaukee Committee.
Currently, Josh is back in Taiwan as part of a Co-Op program through the global manufacturing company FoxConn. He was one of thirteen engineering students selected to participate in the new program and will spend five months at FoxConn, working on applied research projects and learning hands-on. After all he’s been through he should have no trouble finding a job when he graduates next spring.
“I want to end up somewhere doing something impactful.”
by Liz Smith