UM Senior Completes Coveted Internship with Tesla Motors

CME prepped Jarrett Simmons with innovative practices for work at groundbreaking company

Jarrett Simmons, a University of Mississippi senior majoring in mechanical engineering, has completed two internships with Tesla Motors at the company’s headquarters in Fremont, California. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Jarrett Simmons was obsessed with cars from an early age, and as a University of Mississippi sophomore, he found himself working at Tesla Motors, which has shaken up the automotive world with its luxury electric vehicles that boast ludicrously quick acceleration times.

Simmons, a senior mechanical engineering major with an emphasis in manufacturing, is a student at the UM Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence. He was among the less-than-1 percent of applicants who received an internship with Tesla, not once, but twice. He aggressively pursued opportunities, which he credits for landing the sought-after gig at Tesla.

“It’s very cliche, but anything really is possible,” said Simmons, of San Diego. “Going to one of the harder companies to get into for an internship and being able to thrive in it is a very rewarding thing.

“I’m much more confident after learning to apply everywhere for different positions. Getting told ‘no’ is a lot better than not applying at all. A lot of doors open when you do that.”

Tesla, which builds electric cars and “infinitely scalable clean energy generation and storage products,” is headquartered in Fremont, California.

“It’s kind of like Disneyland, in a way,” Simmons said. “It’s so clean. It’s so big. It’s unlike any manufacturing center that I’ve ever been to with the CME.

“There’s also a lot of security, so it’s kind of cool that you get to see it and a lot of people don’t.”

Elon Musk, a South African-born entrepreneur and businessman who has been called “tech’s most enigmatic CEO,” started online bank in 1999, which later became PayPal. He founded SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003.

At the Fremont facility, Simmons bumped into Musk a few times. The maverick was very visible, but always busy working on ideas about private space exploration, Mars colonization, electric and self-driving cars, solar energy and artificial intelligence.

“He was working on higher-level problems than I was,” Simmons said with a laugh.

Simmons has a relative who is a car collector, which allowed him to go to many car shows, and once, he met Lincoln’s design director. He learned about how the company builds all its prototypes, and that ignited an excitement about automotive engineering and production in Simmons. 

Years later, he found himself as an Ole Miss sophomore working in Tesla’s powertrain group with the rotor team during his first internship with the company. He worked on the main engine drive unit in the Tesla Model S.

Jarrett Simmons checks out an electric truck developed by Tesla Motors, where the UM senior has interned twice. Submitted photo

During his most recent internship, he worked in the new product unit on everything from the control screens in the cars to the battery packs that power the Model 3. 

His time in the “real world” came with many lessons, beyond organizing his time and finding his meals. He learned the importance of social skills in the workplace. 

“Something I thought going in was that I needed to have a lot of technical knowledge,” Simmons said. “But the most important part was the social aspect of work. That surprised me quite a bit.

“You need to be able to communicate quite a bit with others. Reaching out to the right people can help you go a long way.”

Getting an opportunity to work for such a groundbreaking company as an undergraduate was special, Simmons said. 

“Tesla has a very different approach,” he said. “The cars work. They’re fast. They’re efficient. They are better than most gas cars that you can buy.

“Beyond that, just as a company, it is just so untraditional. It doesn’t really have a marketing team; there’s no advertising, plus they’re manufacturing in the Bay area. It just has a lot of elements that make it different.”

Simmons credits much of his success to the skills he’s learned at the CME, which was one of the reasons the California kid came to Ole Miss, besides the strong sense of school spirit at the university. The CME is something other universities he considered didn’t have going for them.

The CME teaches its students fundamental and innovative practices that are crucial in modern manufacturing. Its mission is to cultivate future leaders by immersing students in unique experiences that are instrumental in a variety of different career paths.

The center serves as a professional resource to aid the state’s economic growth.

Students have secured some impressive internships in addition to the one Simmons landed at Tesla, said Scott Kilpatrick, associate director of internal operations at the CME. They’ve worked for Ingalls Shipbuilding, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Lockheed Martin, Exxon and others.

The internship concept is central to the CME’s mission of training students, he said. 

“We don’t require them to do an internship, but the expectation is certainly laid out that we want them to do this,” Kilpatrick said. “We try to provide as many resources as we can either to connect with partners we have, or be prepared to go out and search on your own.”

Simmons has excelled partially because of his determination to find opportunities, Kilpatrick said. 

“We’re very proud of what he’s done, but we’re also really excited to see what he’s going to do in the future,” he said