Niko Simpkins: At the nexus of engineering and music

For Niko Simpkins, a musician who performs, produces, and engineers his own tracks, the most exciting processes combine structure and flexibility, creativity, and rigor. As a third-year student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, he sees his mechanical engineering education as a framework for problem solving that might serve him across a broad set of endeavors, and for now, he’s more interested in learning than narrowing to any one particular career path.

Niko Simpkins sitting with arms folded, smiling
Penn Engineering undergraduate Niko Simpkins. (Image: Penn Engineering Today)

“One of my mentors told me early on not to look for a specific job with a specific title, but to imagine a job that doesn’t exist yet,” he says. “That resonated with me and it’s the way I approach things.”

Simpkins discovered a love for technology early in his life, but it was his work in the music studio that led him to engineering school.

“I was always interested in robotics, motors, and programs/programming, but when I got into music I came to think more about systems and processes,” he says. “Since nobody can make a rubric or map out success for a song, video or merchandise, the only real standard or ceiling is a self-set one. Becoming a great content creator means learning how to raise that ceiling by your own internal motivation and genuine enthusiasm for excellent work. Thanks to this mindset, I find open-ended assignments are most conducive to my best work.”

At Penn, Simpkins has been focused on projects like leading a team to design, pitch, and build a miniature basketball game, resulting in lessons in collaboration, managing cross-functional workstreams and working smarter for better results. He’s currently leading an exploratory study to develop educational technology for the Philosophy Department and interning for a consulting firm with a focus on business development for startups.

He’s also explored his own natural aptitude for leadership. As president of the Underrepresented Student Advisory Board in Engineering, he liaises between minority groups on campus and the Dean’s office in Penn Engineering to create and implement actionable strategies for supporting students, facilitating dialogue, and promoting diversity and inclusion. He also serves as a Weingarten Ambassador and the corporate relations chair for the Penn chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, where he’s organized events and raised more than $10,000 in sponsorships.

Read more at Penn Engineering Today.