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From college hackathon to a new job at Ally Financial

Story by
Trisha Radulovich
engineering hackathon to job student keishon smith
Keishon Smith, an electrical engineering alumnus via Florida A&M University (FAMU), now does R&D in the financial sector.  (Photo: FAMU-FSU Engineering)

Alumni Spotlight: Keishon Smith shares his surprising journey from college engineering hackathon participant to financial professional

After a year of waiting, Keishon Smith finally got to walk—in person—for his 2020 graduation ceremony at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. He like, so many 2020 graduates, had his senior year dampened by the pandemic.

“It was nice to have my parents watch me walk across the stage at graduation after a 15-month delay,” Smith said.” I’m the first one out of my immediate family to graduate college.”

Smith graduated from FAMU with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, working in the technology laboratory of Ally Financial, a bank holding company. He does research and development on emerging technologies, weighing potential benefits and risks for the company. 

What do you appreciate most about getting your degree here?

What I appreciated most was the mixture of various cultures. My lab partner happened to be from Panama. The experience allowed me to learn about her culture and vice versa. The HBCU experience connected me with individuals from diverse cultures and upbringings that looked like me. Most importantly, it enabled me to become my authentic self through learning my likes and dislikes. 

How did you get the position at Ally Financial?

You can say my side-hustle in college was to attend hackathons and entrepreneurial competitions. I was fortunate to participate in a hackathon located in Detroit that was sponsored by Ally Financial. Our FAMU team won and I received an internship with the company. During that time, my group created a financial literacy game—a world within Minecraft to teach middle school students about financial literacy. We presented this project to the CEO of the company. He loved the idea and decided to build it out and introduce it to various middle schools. The success of this internship then resulted in my employment in the technology labs.

What is your area of interest in electrical engineering?

I’m interested in what the future of distributed energy generation will be. I always ask myself, ‘Why can’t we find new ways of creating energy? Why can’t we have usable energy from cars traveling down the highway?’ Solutions such as this can create an entirely new market and opportunity for economic development.

What is one of your proudest moments as an engineer?

Creating and giving an entrepreneurial scholarship to a fellow engineering student from the proceeds of Paper Fairy, a company I developed at the engineering school. Another was when I graduated.

Any challenges that you overcame to get your degree? 

There were plenty of challenges along the way. It felt like I failed every class at least once on my journey to graduating. But my failures—more than my successes—taught me about who I truly am. I am thankful for that.  

Who or what inspires you?

What will happen in the future? That’s what inspires me most. To wonder how it will look and how much of an impact I can have on it. The ability to build the future and not maintain the status quo.
 
What is your best advice for students? 

The best advice is to over-optimize on experience. Anyone can attend class and get grades, but how can you show your passion? What makes you unique? Once you find it, dive deep into it and let the journey take you to a new and exciting place.

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