This New Lab Engineer Will Make You Love Circuits

Although we’ve been busy at the lab, it’s time to introduce you to our new lab engineer, Kim Luong! Kim has been a Detkin fan for quite some time and you may recognize her from fall semester’s class ESE 519 Real-Time and Embedded Systems. She’s also teaching ESE 350 Embedded Systems/Microcontroller Laboratory during the spring. Here’s the details on past, present and future Kim (as she humorously refers to herself). Oh yes, and you may notice some cats.

You are the lab engineer, but you are also a professor—why is this mix of roles important to you?

Officially, the title is adjunct lecturer but my students call me anything from Kim, to Professor Luong, to Prof Kim 😅 (although “Kim” is the easiest to pronounce and the most correct). You can find all the amazing things my students have done here: https://ese519f2020.devpost.com/.  I feel that as the academic lab engineer and as an instructor for one of the lab courses that Detkin supports, I get to see and decide first hand exactly what a lab course needs in order to be successful. Detkin exists to support the academic learning of the students, and having one foot in a teaching role allows me to keep the student-centric environment grounded.

What did you end up studying?

I entered the University of Southern California (USC) as an international relations global business major. A very naïve 18-year old Kim wanted to travel for work and figured that maybe business was the easiest route there. But as it turns out, international relations was entirely uninteresting to me, so I switched over to a double major in business administration and accounting, while keeping a Spanish minor. I thought that even if I didn’t know what I wanted to do, at least this degree could give me a stable job afterwards. As the daughter of immigrants, I understand the mentality of surviving first before thriving can even be considered. Business turned out to be incredibly boring and ironically, almost all of my friends on the ballroom dance team were engineers, so after attending a robotics open house on campus where one of my friends demonstrated his PhD project, I took the plunge. I dropped both majors and the minor, cancelled my study abroad plans to Spain (and lost the deposit), switched my major to mechanical engineering, took a summer calculus class to catch up on the pre-requisites, stayed an entire extra fifth year to complete the degree, and I haven’t looked back since. 

Was there someone that had an impact on your studies?

I had a good mentor in my undergrad – Dr. Veronica Eliasson. Granted, I probably wasn’t the best student ever in her fluid dynamics class (that subject is difficult!!!), but she believed in me and helped me through some difficult non-academic related life things during my undergrad. She was always enthusiastic in her lectures because she truly loved what she was teaching, and now that I think about it, I am the same when I give my lectures. (Don’t even get me started on my power management lectures! 😍) She was, and is, so cool! I remember she usually kept one side of her hair buzzed, and during the final project of our rocket launches she had her barber cut a rocket design in her hair. She once said to me that the only difference between me and her was that she just had more time than I did in learning things. It wasn’t that she was better or smarter, or on a whole other level of awesomeness (which I strongly believed) than me. It was just that she was simply older and had had more time. This is what I always think about when I teach. I’m only the instructor because I’ve spent more time studying and learning the materials. It doesn’t mean that I am better or smarter or superior to my students in any way. 

If you could pick your favorite focus in engineering, what would it be?

I’d definitely say anything circuits-related. I love my mechanical engineering background and I suppose circuits is just the EE version of mechanical hardware.

You’ve worked with Penn’s F1TENTH—tell us about that.

During my time in F1TENTH, I worked on quite a myriad of things. I wrote almost all of the technical documentation, compiled a master bill of materials, designed a new power distribution board, and organized the races. I worked with an amazing, albeit very very small, group at Penn, but also got to be part of a very enthusiastic international community of autonomous vehicle enthusiasts. 

We heard you love bread making—tell us about your fave loaves.

I use a google sheet that I name “Breadsheet” to keep track of all my trials. My starter’s name is Mướp (which means “squash”, like the vegetable, in Vietnamese). She lives on the counter, never in the fridge, and is fed a 50/50 mix of rye and all-purpose twice a day.  I think I’ve baked probably around 150 loaves so far since March, and my all-time favorite combination is 80% whole wheat, 20% rye, and 40% spent grains. I have a strong preference towards whole grain loaves, but I’m currently working on a country blonde that’s 20% whole wheat and 10% rye (the rest being all-purpose flour), and that’s probably my favorite blonde bread so far. I’m thankful that I have a small group of friends who are willing to try all my experiments. Although I approach bread baking with an engineering mindset, the process has definitely taught me many lessons in forgiveness, patience, and acceptance.

How are you hoping to impact the Detkin experience at Penn?

I’d like to continue to make Detkin a second home for the students. Actually, it’s probably a first home for some of them because I’m sure they have spent more time in Detkin than they have in their own homes. I want it to be a welcoming, safe, and supportive space for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, religious beliefs, physical or mental health status, or socioeconomic status. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are all core values that I believe in, and everyone deserves, and should expect, to be treated with respect by other members of the Penn community. There is all this talk about educating the “leaders” of tomorrow and while yes, providing students with technical skills is necessary, oftentimes the human factor is forgotten. I strive to create a community and environment where my students not only can become better engineers, but they also have opportunities to figure out the kind of leader and person that they want to be.

It’s been great getting to know more about Kim, and we are thankful for the many talents she is already bringing to the lab, especially during this time of remote learning. From mentoring students in Senior Design to recommending parts for kits, and getting students up-to-speed on Altium, she is ready to help where needed. There are also future projects she will be leading at the lab including enhancing curriculum and extending outreach. Get ready for more excitement with Detkin Lab (after we are done getting kits to our students around the world)!