‘Best Eight-Month Interview That You Can Get from a Student,’ Company Says

Undergraduate Design Project Image by Courtesy
Porchhay Be, third from left, presents the project to Schneider Electric employees.

By Brooke Coupal

Porchhay Be ’24, an avid video gamer, has seen his fair share of cheating in the virtual realms.

“There’s a lot of bad actors hacking video games,” says Be, who grew up in Cambodia. “Since I was young, I wanted to know how they did that, and how it can be prevented.”

Be’s curiosity developed into a desire to work in cybersecurity, where he could protect systems from digital attacks like the ones he witnessed in video games. Now a cybersecurity firmware engineer at Schneider Electric in Andover, Massachusetts, Be has accomplished his goal.

Be’s journey with Schneider Electric, an energy management and automation company, began during his senior year at UMass Lowell. As a computer science major, Be took part in the Kennedy College of SciencesUndergraduate Design Project, which since 2018 has connected students with companies, including Red Hat and Onto Innovation (formerly Rudolph Technology), to work on real problems for academic credit. Schneider Electric has collaborated with the Undergraduate Design Project since 2019, and this year, the company was looking for students to work on artificial intelligence (AI) security research. With an interest in AI, Be signed on.

“I’m a tech enthusiast. I like to learn about new technology, and AI has become very popular,” he says. “Being able to work with AI and trying to secure it, it’s amazing.”

Over the academic year, Be worked on the project with fellow computer science majors Ali Jibril Kabbara ’24, Joan Montas ’24 and rising senior Shruti Susarla. The group investigated different ways in which AI can be attacked and how those attacks can be stopped. They regularly visited Schneider Electric, where they learned about the different technologies that the company uses and received feedback on their work. At the end of the academic year, the students presented their findings to Schneider Electric and the UMass Lowell community.

“It was a symbiotic relationship,” says Montas, a Maynard, Massachusetts, resident who is now working in cybersecurity at a different organization. “We are fresh on theory, and Schneider Electric has the experience and the wisdom. They learn from us, and we learn a lot from them.”

“I gained a lot of soft skills,” adds Jibril Kabbara, a Canton, Massachusetts, resident who is looking to pursue a software engineering career. “I got to be a part of a long-term project where I worked with a group under professional expectations that we can present to people who aren’t familiar with what we’re working on.”

Undergraduate Design Project 2 Image by Courtesy
Joan Montas discusses AI security.

Ian Chen, an assistant professor in the Miner School of Computer & Information Sciences, led the project, while Schneider Electric employees Nicholas Yameen ’19, ’21 and Ted Han served as mentors for the students.

Before working for Schneider Electric, Yameen, a computer engineering alum, interned for the company for two years following his first year at UMass Lowell. He also completed a project with Schneider Electric during his senior year as part of the Francis College of Engineering’s Industry-Sponsored Senior Design Project. Yameen credits this project with helping him get a full-time job offer after he received his bachelor’s degree.

“As my boss says, ‘It’s the best eight-month interview that you can get from a student,’” says Yameen, a Schneider Electric senior technical edge product owner from Haverhill, Massachusetts.

For the past five years, Yameen has mentored students in the Undergraduate Design Project. 

“It’s a full-circle moment,” he says. “I can teach them what it means to be a full-time engineer in an environment like this.”

Several students who have completed the project with Schneider Electric have received internships and co-ops with the company, which subsequently led to full-time job offers for some. That’s exactly what happened with Be.

The employees at Schneider Electric encouraged Be to apply for a co-op as he was working on the Undergraduate Design Project. He got the position and started working as a cybersecurity embedded software engineering intern in February. The cybersecurity team went on to offer Be a full-time position, which he began in July.

“I enjoy working with them, so it’s exciting that they gave me a return offer,” says Be, who adds that securing a full-time job was a big relief.

For Be, the Undergraduate Design Project proved instrumental as he started his career.

“It gave me professional experience that prepared me for my future work,” he says.