Jonathan Willett presents on his internship project

Secure Your Ride

Jonathan Willett shares his undergraduate research experience. Read his story and watch the video.

Undergraduate research opportunities are available all across Penn State Altoona. Jonathan Willett shares his experiences with Security and Risk Analysis research.

My internship involved creating a security system that would prevent the hacking of automobiles. It’s a very new concern, like someone turning on your car and driving it without you being there, for example, or unlocking your car through a computer. There wasn’t a lot of research done on this issue and some manufacturers were dismissing the worry. The internship was a continuation of a project called the Hybrid Security System that I was doing for my SRA 220 class. I was able to carry that work over to an internship here at Penn State Altoona with the help of Dr. Syed Rizvi and some funding from IBM.

There was a lot of theory involved at the beginning of the internship, a lot of research on how to develop this architecture from the ground up. I had to buy several books and do a lot of reading. I spent quite a bit of time looking up new vocabulary words. But I learned so much, like how to read and write research papers, how to use databases, and do threat analysis scenarios like looking at a car and figuring out its biggest vulnerability. I took a lot of what I have learned in my classes so far and applied it to this internship, and what’s great is that now I can take what I learned in my internship and apply it to future jobs, maybe even take it to the corporate world and make a business out of it. Or now because I have this experience, I could go right into research for a career.

There was a lot of hands-on experience, too. I was able to go to different conferences and get feedback on conference papers that I wrote. I networked with many people including a volunteer liaison with NASA which was a really cool experience for me. I had conference calls with him to discuss the progress of the project.

Through this internship, I found that no matter how hard or how big a task is, if you give it all you can and you put your mind to it, anything is possible. At the very beginning of the internship there were several unanswered questions and many undeveloped ideas. By the end, I was able to answer 90 percent of those questions and progress the design phase to where there was a working part in the overall security program. It’s exciting to think that something I helped develop could one day be in every single car or airplane or drone, that something I worked on could change the world. Penn State Altoona has really good internship opportunities, and if students have the chance to do one, they definitely should. They can gain a lot of credibility and experience in their field. It’s a great confidence booster, too.

To learn more about internships, please contact Tom Shaffer, academic internship coordinator, at or 814-949-5789.