Ambition helped land NC student a dream co-op with Research & Innovation Centre

Cameron Sheppard, Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op) student and Research Assistant, Mechanical Design at WAMIC
Cameron Sheppard, Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op) student and Research Assistant, Mechanical Design at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC).

Ambition is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as having a desire to achieve a particular goal or to be successful.

That definition fits Cameron Sheppard’s mindset perfectly, and it’s exactly his ambition and go-getter attitude that landed him his position as Research Assistant, Mechanical Design with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC).

Cam is a student in the Mechanical Engineering Technology (Co-op) program at Niagara College. He’s in his senior co-op in his fourth term, and on the academic side, will be kicking off his final term in January 2023.

A typical day in the lab, Cam says, “…starts by cracking some jokes with colleagues, all in good fun of course. But honestly, it depends. It’s very different today versus when I first started, seeing as I’ve managed to get myself grounded, and the team is aware of my mechanical strengths.”

At WAMIC, Cam has progressed from individual equipment skills to broad research project responsibility.

“Initially, I learned totally new skills like how to use the 3D printer. Now, I have main projects that I’m responsible for. I’m doing all the mechanical design, placing orders for parts, putting prototypes together, testing it out, so it’s a lot more fulsome now.”

Having transferred to Niagara College after his first year of college elsewhere, Cam was coming back to his roots in Niagara, having grown up in St. Catharines.

“I started my post-secondary education at a different school and ended up transferring to Niagara College. The faculty at the College has blown me away. Every faculty member I’ve interacted with has actual experience working in their industry and is also a competent teacher who can explain complex terms in plain language. There’s a lot of passion in the way the faculty teach.”

“Everyone I’ve come across, whether it be on the academic side or with the Research & Innovation team, enjoys wanting to build a personal relationship with you and wants you to succeed,” he added.

Cam first wet his feet in the world of innovation when he took robotics in high school. Now, in the college system, he finds himself being a mentor, teaching others about robotics.

And having hands-on robotics experience before starting with the WAMIC team has been an asset, Cam said.

“A lot of things that I do here in the WAMIC lab are things that I originally learnt from robotics. The skills were very transferable. I feel like it has given me an edge and allowed me to excel in my role.”

Cam impressed everyone with his familiarity and ability to use many of the tools in the lab and has since created a running list of dream tools that he would love to see in the lab one day.

“Everyone I’ve come across, whether it be on the academic side or with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) team, enjoys wanting to build a personal relationship with you and wants you to succeed.”

Over the past few months, Cam has been spending most of his time and focus on an athletic training device project. This automatic system allows a basketball player to practise free throws without an assistant. After a basketball is thrown, whether it finds the net or not, this system will recycle the ball back to the player for another throw.

The challenge for the WAMIC team was to find a way to for the system to adjust the catching net depending on where the player is, so Cam’s role in the project was to design and implement the mechanical adjusting system, including electric motor.  And he’s done just that.

The team is now working with the industry partner to finalize details of mounting the new mechanical system to their existing frame.

Cam found the Research Assistant position through Career Services at the College. He attended the six-week course that helped him prepare a cover letter, resume, and be interview ready so that when the right job posting came up through Career Service’s job board, he was ready to apply.

Cam was clearly the best applicant for the job. Cam’s ambition, previous experience in robotics and current field of study made him the right fit for the Research Assistant role and for the team. “If you don’t apply and put yourself out there, you will never get the opportunities. So, I would encourage more students to apply for Research & Innovation co-ops,” he said.

“I was trusted to create the design and make the actual product. So, I really like how my role brings together the theoretical side of things and the practical application. It’s also a really friendly environment to work in.”

The WAMIC team also understands that he’s still a student. While there can be some projects with hard deadlines, they understand that there needs to be a student-work life balance, which Cam likes.

In his personal time, Cam enjoys hanging out with my friends, running and reading. And let’s not forget about the vinyl record collection he’s racking up (with special mention to the genius of The Doors).

When it all comes down to it, Cam comes back to ambition. To any prospective student or new co-op student, Cam has this to tell you, “… if you’re ambitious and put yourself out there, you can make your experience a really amazing one because Niagara College offers more than just a school. Or, you can just put your head down, study, get your diploma and go.

“It all depends on what you want and how far you want to go to get it because if you are ambitious enough and tell your faculty you want to get a good co-op, they are going to do their best to help you succeed.”

Looking to the future, Cam knows he wants to work in the field of applied research. It seems to be the best combination of both worlds (engineering and robotics) for him, and if that means he can continue his time at Niagara College with the WAMIC team, that would be a plus.

But regardless, he knows his future career will be firmly in the world of research and innovation.