Alumni Profile: Wyatt Rufener, Japan 2013 & 2015

Wyatt Rufener ’15, MS’17 interned in Tokyo, Japan in summer 2013 with JR Central and again in summer 2015 with Hirose Denki through the Pasona program. He majored in Applied Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics with a certificate in Japanese Professional Communication before earning a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. He is currently an engineer in the Electron Devices Division of L3Harris, a defense contractor in California.

After some years to reflect, what were some highlights or key takeaways from your IIP internships?

I think the biggest takeaway for me was experiencing the Japanese workplace culture firsthand. Having worked as a professional for three years now, I often find myself reflecting on those aspects of the culture, such as communication, respect, and diligence that I try to emulate in my own professional life.

I will always remember my first experience abroad [at JR Central] at the age of 19. For the first time in my life, I was completely alone, free to make my own decisions without the influence of friends or family in a world that was entirely new to me. I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where I’ve grown and learned more about myself than that summer.

In uniform at JR Central

How did your IIP internship experience influence your current path?

Prior to my internship experiences, my dream was always to pursue a PhD in Physics. After my second internship in Japan, I fell in love with the field of engineering and product development. I found the attention to detail and quality that is ever present in Japanese engineering to be totally fascinating.

After I came back, I finished my BS in Applied Math, Engineering, and Physics but switched my graduate studies to focus on engineering instead. That decision to pursue engineering instead of academia is the reason I am where I am today.

Is there any particular skill you gained from your internship that you think helped you get a job after? If so, what?

I think the manufacturing experience I gained while working for the cable connector company, Hirose Denki, was and has been critical in my first job. As an electrical engineer, the expectation is that you are quite far away from the production and processes that make a product – you are the design and troubleshoot guy, while the mechanical engineers are the ones who worry about building it. Having experienced firsthand the methods used at Hirose to design, build and validate connectors, I find myself more willing to participate in the manufacturing side of my current job. I even learned how to use 3D modeling software while at Hirose, a skill that I frequently use on the job today and something that I never would have learned in my electrical engineering courses!

With co-interns at JR Central

Why should undergraduates consider interning abroad?

Have you considered studying abroad? Then why not intern abroad? I found that many aspects of studying abroad such as cost, schedule, credits, etc. were a deterrent for me, and interning abroad was the perfect solution to those concerns. I was able to use my summer, rather than a semester. I earned humanities credits learning about cross-cultural work and writing reflections on my internship experience. I got an amazing bullet point on my resume, plus work experience. And the best part: I got a stipend and housing provided!

What advice would you give to students returning from abroad?

At the JR Central Reunion in 2019

RE-SU-ME! As soon as you return from your experience, document it on your resume while it is still fresh in your mind. Listen to the questions people ask about your experience. What kinds of insights did you gain from your experience that you couldn’t have gotten back home? After a couple months of being back, what experiences and takeaways stick with you the most? How will your experience change the way you engage and develop in your career?

Recognize that your experience sets you apart from every other person who is applying for your position, award, job, etc. and use it! You should always reference your experience abroad when applying for things, even if it doesn’t seem relevant. Worst-case scenario, it is an interesting talking point during an interview.

Is there any custom, food, tradition from your host country that you still enjoy now?

I consider myself so lucky to live in the Los Angeles area, which is a major Japanese cultural center in the U.S. I make regular trips to Book Off to pick up the latest chapters of my favorite manga, eat out at Yoshinoya, and even converse with local Japanese!

Read Wyatt’s 2015 profile with IIP after receiving the Bucky’s Award for Global Citizenship and read about the JR Central 20 Year Celebration he returned to campus for in 2019. 

In honor of the International Internship Program’s 10th Anniversary, we will be bringing you profiles of IIP alumni who have interned all over the world! Find more alumni profiles here.