On a typical day, Beatrice Onadeko spends most of her time inside a cavernous machine filled with foam spikes, a few shelves, and one bottle of lotion. Onadeko, an information systems graduate student from Dothan, Ala., works as the graduate assistant and team manager at Auburn University’s RFID Lab.
The lab, which draws on the expertise of faculty from the Harbert College of Business, the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, the College of Human Sciences and other campus partners, investigates ways to use radio frequency identification technology in retail, supply chain and manufacturing. Both confident in and excited about her work at the RFID Lab, Onadeko has helped take the lab from boxes in an unfinished warehouse to serving major industry clients like Amazon and Target.
Onadeko became interested in information systems later in her undergraduate career in the Harbert College. But – instead of changing her major – she chose to complete her bachelor’s degree in finance and pursue a master’s degree in information systems.
“Finance and information systems complement each other, because if a company wants to switch over their information system, you can help with the financial aspects and figure out the long term value of the switch,” Onadeko said.
After being accepted to the master’s program, Onadeko received an e-mail requesting applicants for a graduate assistant position with the RFID Lab. Though she had no previous experience with RFID – or knowledge of what RFID was – she thought it would offer valuable experience to accompany her degree. She didn’t realize then that nine months later she would be presenting her work to corporate and research representatives from around the world.
When Onadeko started working at the RFID Lab last fall, the facility (13,000-square feet located in a former supermarket) was being renovated and lacked air conditioning. With industrial fans keeping the heat at bay, Onadeko and other students helped set up the RFID Lab – everything from connecting the equipment to constructing the testing areas. The fruits of their labor were revealed in May, when the lab celebrated its grand opening. Amazon used the occasion to announce its research partnership with the lab.
During the grand opening, Onadeko led hundreds of researchers and industry representatives on tours of the RFID Lab, explaining the complexity of RFID and giving demonstrations of the machinery, including the anechoic chamber where she works among foam spikes testing RFID tags bound for retail stores. Though nervous, Onadeko remained poised as she explained the complexities of RFID. It was also a chance for Onadeko to display her business acumen and build her professional network.
“It was good to see that some of these people have also gone to Auburn, and see where they are now,” Onadeko says, “It gives you that motivation to keep going.”
In addition to presiding over the anechoic testing chamber, Onadeko also manages other student assistants at the lab. One of the biggest challenges Onadeko faced in joining the lab involved understanding the complexities of RFID, which involves the wireless transfer of data to help identify and track objects. With no prior experience, Onadeko had to quickly learn how to take measurements, understand the data, and spot when something is not working correctly. She said that she still learns new things about RFID every day.
Even though lab has contracts with major industry, Onadeko believes that those who benefit most from the lab are Auburn University and Harbert College students. The RFID Lab helps students apply what they learn in the classroom to create a richer business education experience. Onadeko hopes that as the lab grows, students will have more opportunities to enhance their formal learning.
Working at the RFID Lab has opened Onadeko up to a variety of career opportunities after graduate school. Though she’s open to working in the RFID industry, she’s also exploring other information systems careers she has been prepared for through her experience at the RFID Lab and her Harbert College education.