As he prepares to graduate in May, senior electrical and computer engineering major Xavion Cowans is focused on landing his first engineering job. But he already has a long-term career vision in mind as well.
“My ultimate end game is to be able to open up my own engineering firm,” he said. “I want to be that engineering firm that gives working college students a chance.”
Cowans grew up in Aurora, Colorado, and attended community college there for two years before transferring to CU Boulder. In addition to being a full-time student, he’s also spent much of his college career working full-time off-campus – most recently in security at Walmart – to support himself.
Transferring put him a bit behind his four-year counterparts in certain coursework, he said. And balancing school and work also meant he didn’t have the exceptionally high GPA that some companies look for in interns.
In his dream engineering firm, “I would want to make sure I target the students that are working and putting themselves through school,” Cowans said. “I think that's a task on its own, that I think is overlooked. I don't think people actually realize the amount of effort and time and stress that comes into working and going to school.”
For Cowans, that stress meant he had to choose between focusing on the grades or focusing on understanding the material. Focusing on the latter paid off by the end of his junior year, when faculty members started approaching him to be an undergraduate teaching assistant for their classes.
One of those faculty members was Instructor Arielle Blum, who tapped Cowans as a TA for her Embedded Hardware Systems course. She recognized how hard he’d worked to master the material.
“He has fought tooth-and-nail to be here and be successful,” she said. “He is truly an exemplary student and one of the best TAs I have ever had, with charisma, leadership and keen intelligence.”
Cowans said he really enjoyed being a TA – so much so that he would consider teaching in the future.
“When you're explaining a concept to somebody, it's always a nice feeling to see the light bulb go off, see things click. Their eyes open wide, and it suddenly makes sense,” he said. “You see that they got stumped on this little concept and then after you helped piece things together, then they just took off.”
Cowans said he also really enjoys the programming side of embedded systems, a role he’s playing in his capstone project team. They’re creating a smart home speaker – nicknamed Homie – that lets users maintain more data privacy than commercial devices.
“A lot of us would love to have a device like that, but we all know that Google and Amazon aren't the most honest companies,” he said. “So our solution was to create a device like that, a smart home device that didn't rely heavily on an outside data server.”
He explained that Homie can serve as its own server, or you can use a personal computer. Plus, it’s open-source, so users with the know-how can improve or customize it with their own modules.
As he and the team work out the final kinks in the design and implementation, Cowans is also learning his way around technical job interviews. A recent one didn’t go well from a technical standpoint, but he was still encouraged by the response from the interviewer.
“The hiring manager really liked me. They said I'm a people person, so that's what working security at Walmart does for you,” he said. “They’re going to give me another shot at the interview after I graduate, because they want me there.”