From Legos to Microgrids – One Student’s Journey to Becoming the Engineer He Is Meant to Be
Growing up in a family of engineers, Jack Carnovale, a ‘23 Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) PES (Power & Energy Society) Scholarship Plus Initiative and John W. Estey award recipient, almost seemed destined to become one. In the end, however, it was important that he make the decision for himself.
“For the longest time I tried to look elsewhere but it was something that kept calling me,” Jack said. “My parents would give me these crafty toys for Christmas like Legos or snap circuits and the more you build things the more you look for new ways to expand and create your own problems and figure out how to solve them. So that kind of mentality kept getting fostered as I grew up – not only in the environment I was in but also by me finding things I liked on my own time.”
Jack grew up close to the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), where he is currently in his junior year. On track to graduate in December, he plans to continue his educational journey by attaining a graduate degree before going into industry.
Pitt has provided Jack with broad exposure to the industry, and he is now at the point where he can hone in on his focus area – power engineering.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of stuff, not just electrical but a lot of computer engineering as well, specifically pertaining to software, which led me to get involved in undergraduate research in the Power Lab,” he said. “I led the team that designed and implemented a small micro grid in our lab that combines battery power, some inverters, solar power, and the actual utility power into a load bench. This will act as our experimental test bed moving forward. A lot of the software I’ve been learning will help me move on to what’s next, which involves load curve modeling – getting the load bench to behave through software.”
Jack has been involved in real-world internship experience as well, which he found both “exciting and valuable.”
“I interned last summer at Eaton Electrical in their Power Systems Control Group and got to do a lot of programmable logic controller testing,” he said. “I also made a testing simulator for them which allowed me to get experience not just in coding, but also in teamwork – working with a full team of professional engineers and also getting used to an actual engineering role. You only get so far talking about things. You can draw something on paper but there’s something about being able to build it and see the things you’ve imagined and fix the issues that come up – it’s a new way of learning that hasn’t been afforded to you.”
This isn’t the first time Jack has received an award from IEEE PES but that didn’t make it any less meaningful.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity. The announcement for the Outstanding Scholar Award came on my birthday, which was crazy timing. While I knew it was a possibility, it wasn’t something I expected. It’s a great help – not only in terms of paying for school but also being able to go to the conference and have that sponsored. There really weren’t words at the time. I kept reading the email again and again. This year my PES Plus award was a renewal from last year, which I was happy to have as well. Receiving it the first time really pushed me to solidify my career path.”
When asked what he is most looking forward to being involved in and working on in industry in the future, Jack responded:
“One of the biggest things happening right now is tying in electric vehicles to the power grid. As more electric vehicles are on the road there’s this new big electrical load that we’re not prepared to deal with yet. The need is bigger than we can supply,” he explained. The two big things coming down the line are improving the infrastructure itself and ‘Vehicle-to-Grid integration’ – the idea that you can charge your electric car at home, but it can also supply energy back to the grid. This is a big emerging field and for me that’s something I would love to be a part of in any way shape or form.”
There’s an added sense of responsibility being part of the power industry, according to Jack, because it is something that fuels our way of life.
“I’m grateful to be a part of it,” he said. “Under a different set of circumstances, I may have ended up in doing something else but understanding electricity and power gives a new weight to how you look at it. It’s exciting for me to have that understanding. It is a universally applicable thing that matters to everyone. It keeps the lights on!”