Kaelan Rasmussen

Kaelan Rasmussen literally had a light bulb moment when her fourth grade science class put together an electronic circuit kit that turned on a light bulb. “I remember that was the first moment I got interested in electricity. It was so cool,” said Rasmussen, an electrical and computer engineering student at Oregon State University.

Growing up, she was her dad’s helper in everything from fixing cars, roofing, tiling floors, to running internet throughout the house. Her dad was an aircraft electrician in the U.S. Air Force and when she was in high school in England he had a side business repairing and modifying video game consoles.

“There were electronics all over the house, so I grew up with that, and it was fun and familiar to me. It just felt right to go into electrical engineering,” she said.

Oregon State University was a natural choice for her even though she had lived in Oregon for just the first two years of her life. Moving to wherever the Air Force stationed her father, she grew up in various places besides England including Spokane, Washington; Tucson, Arizona; and Germany. While she did not know where her parents would be stationed after she graduated high school, her roots were in Portland where her grandparents still lived.

Now a junior, Rasmussen has had some good opportunities for learning practical work skills, teamwork and hands-on engineering beyond the classroom. She spent the summer of 2014 racing across the country with the Oregon State University Solar Vehicle Team, and worked for two years at the OSU computer help desk.

“Working as part of a team has been great experience, but I’ve also learned to take opportunities to turn things into educational moments,” she said. “There is a focus on education at Oregon State — it’s always ‘student first.’”

Scholarships have made a critical difference to Rasmussen. Last summer, she was looking at her school bill and wondering how she was going to pay for it when she was notified that she would receive a scholarship from Garmin. It was the exact amount she owed. “It was just perfect. And since Garmin does avionics and my dad was in the Air Force, it seemed fitting,” she said.

“It’s been a huge blessing to have a scholarship. I can focus on school and I don't have to worry about paying off debts, which is unfortunately not the case for many of my friends,” Rasmussen said.

The scholarship led to an internship last summer at Garmin AT in Salem, Oregon, where she was a design engineer. There she honed skills in troubleshooting and surface mount soldering, became familiar with high-end equipment she had never seen before, and experienced all the stages of project design.

She also got to play volleyball. Garmin has a turf court that you could find her at every lunchtime, playing the sport she has loved since sixth grade. Rasmussen has not had time to play since she started college so the court was a definite perk for her.

Once the follower of her dad’s footsteps, Rasmussen is now the one leading the way. Just this fall, her dad enrolled in electrical engineering at Oregon Institute of Technology.

“My dad has always been there to support me through everything, and it’s great that I get a chance to support him through his education,” Rasmussen said. “Who knows, maybe we’ll end up working together someday.”

Story by Rachel Robertson