Kevin Twitchell ’14 ’20 earned his first undergraduate degree in criminal justice, inspired by the TV show “Numb3rs,” in which an FBI agent works with his brother, a math professor, to solve crimes.
“I thought it would be cool to become part of the action,” he says.
Toward the end of his undergraduate years, Twitchell learned more about what actual police work involved – and decided it wasn’t for him. He had taken some engineering and accounting classes, but wasn’t sure either field was a good fit for him.
“It’s hard to go into school at 18 years old and figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life,” he says.
After graduation, he worked at Market Basket and managed a storage facility for a year and a half while he decided what to do next. He talked to some friends who had graduated with engineering degrees and gotten jobs that they loved, and ultimately decided he would enjoy the work.
So he returned to UMass Lowell for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, taking classes at night through the division of Graduate, Online and Professional Studies (GPS) and working during the day.
“When I started back to school, I thought, ‘This is what I could see myself doing as a career,’” he says. “Mechanical engineering is so broad that you can go into anything. I realized I could do what I wanted to do and try out a bunch of things.”
After a couple of years of study, he found a paid internship at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, where he designed and worked on HVAC systems for clean rooms and office space. In summer 2019, he interned at Brooks Automation, a life sciences and high-tech automation company headquartered in his hometown, Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
Brooks, which makes robots and other equipment used by companies around the world to manufacture silicon chips in super-clean vacuum facilities, was a perfect fit.
At first, Twitchell worked in the automation mechanical engineering group, learning about all of Brooks’ products and writing documentation to train new employees. But his supervisor soon saw that he had a knack for design, so she assigned him to work on components for the company’s robotics, vacuum and atmospheric systems. He also built test robots to specification for different customers.
At the end of the summer, Twitchell asked his supervisor to keep him on as a full-time, paid intern through his final year of school. She did, and in June 2020 Brooks hired Twitchell into its 18-month rotational program for new engineers.
His first, six-month rotation was in the systems engineering group headed by electrical engineering alum Leigh Sharrock ’03, designing equipment that aligns the silicon wafers in a vacuum chamber. Next, he moved to the factory automation and test engineering group, where he figured out how to speed up automated testing for the company’s LEAP robots.
But first, he had to build a LEAP robot from start to finish. It was even more fun than playing with Legos, and very instructive, he says.
“It was amazing,” he says. “Getting the hands on-experience and seeing how cables are routed and where the screws go got me thinking about what you need to consider as you’re designing a product, in order to make it easier on the people actually putting the product together.”
He’s doing his final rotation in the robot product engineering group, where engineers design new robot arms and drives and test them. As he finishes up, he and his supervisors will agree on a permanent placement. Then, Twitchell says, he will probably return to UMass Lowell for a master’s degree to support that specialty.
He says he’s glad he made the decision to change direction and go back to school. And in the evening classes, he met a lot of older engineering technicians completing their bachelor’s degrees. Hearing about their experiences helped guide his choices, he says.
“The night program is definitely good for anyone who’s looking to make a career change, or else someone who’s working in a technical field but they don’t have that degree,” he says. “It’s never too late to go back to school.”