"I want to be a top roboticist"
Starting a new course on a different continent is exciting. Entering a course where your fellow students already know each other for half a year is even more exciting. And if you're beginning your second semester after six years of working and running your own business, it can only fuel the excitement.
This in a nutshell, is where Christopher Ohara (33) is at this February. He is one of the first students to be admitted to the EIT Digital Master School Programme Embedded Systems after successfully completing the EIT Digital online programme Embedded Systems. He begins the second semester at EIT Digital's partner university the Eindhoven University of Technology. He completed his first semester online.
In 2017, EIT Digital Academy and the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) developed a new student selection method via Coursera, where EIT Digital has published over 17 separate Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and five Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). The 22 courses, if fully completed, comprise 30 European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), which are equivalent to taking the first semester of the EIT Digital Master School Programme Embedded Systems. Ohara can say that he is one of first students in the world to be taking a Blended Master School double degree.
How did you find out about EIT Digital?
"I have been working for several years now and my goal is to become a roboticist. That is a difficult path to take in the United States. Yet I need to acquire the skills needed for that work. So, I was looking online and found the fundamentals I needed in MOOCs on Coursera. It turned out that these were put together by EIT Digital. EIT Digital has a lot of MOOCs on the Internet of Things and different ways to model software that are commonly used. This met my needs. I started studying the courses in May 2017."
Did you, when you started the online programme courses, know you could be selected to enter the second semester of the Master's in embedded systems?
"No. At first I found the courses very suitable for me. After reading more about EIT Digital, I discovered that if I completed the programme, I would have the chance to enrol in the EIT Digital Master School. After I had finished five classes in October, I received an email that told me I was eligible to apply based on the progress I had made. I was very excited. I responded directly and said that I was interested. I received instructions on the next steps to take by return: fill in the application, compile a package of all previous courses studied, all my grades and documents and the completed SPOCs. I also had to come up with a business idea and write a plan on how I would market and implement that idea. Then I found out that I had been admitted. I arrived in Eindhoven on January 22 and nine hours later was sitting my first regular exam."
What attracted you to the EIT Digital Master School?
"Are you kidding? You get to study at two universities in Europe! It has always been my dream to go to Germany. Now, I will be going to the Technische Universität in Berlin for my second year of the EIT Digital Master School. The Master School has an international programme that extends much further than just having international students on board. You have your first year in one country, do a Summer School in another country and go to study at a different university in yet another country. The mobility of the programme expands your international network. It is more diverse than the international programmes offered from other renowned universities like Harvard. They too have international students, but they tend to live in a bubble and don't move out of it. Here there are no bubbles and no borders. There are many places to go to, many people to meet and many industries to interact with. The EIT Digital Master School has a value network you can be part of. I haven't seen that anywhere else in the world."
Besides being a student, you are also a Senior Research Scientist at Micro Seal LLC in Los Angeles and CEO of Ohara International, that provides IoT solutions to small business. How do you combine all this?
"Combining things is a learning process. You start by doing one thing at a time. After my bachelor's in Science Technology and Society at the California Polytechnic university, I first worked as a full-time research scientist for a small company. After one year, I developed my own processes and started my own business while working part-time at the company I already worked for. I've been doing that for six years now. Now, with this study, I will be adding something new. You need very good time management to study properly and do the work. I still have time to sleep. By the way, I am also taking online courses on the hardware side of robotics from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. I just want to be a top roboticist."
You just had your kick-off at the Winter School for EIT Digital Master School students in the Netherlands. Most of the students are younger than you are and have less work experience and know each other already. What was your first encounter with them like?
"Indeed, I have some actual work experience in business: making plans, managing projects and finding investors. I have learned a lot already and that is what I can bring to the group. The EIT Digital students strike me as very keen to learn. They understand and adapt quickly; find the differences and ask questions. They are already prepared in entrepreneurial thinking which makes our conversations very level. The students who are selected for the school are highly qualified and come from different backgrounds. That is excellent."
What are your plans after finishing the EIT Digital Master School?
"When I finish the Master School, I might do a PhD in Europe and I've seen the offering at the EIT Digital Doctoral School. That seems interesting. I like Japan as well. My dream is to become a top roboticist. I want to have my own robotics company to help people and improve the quality of life for individuals. But I am also interested in working on robots for big companies like NASA or the Netherlands Space Office. I want to make a difference."