Mechanical engineering undergraduate applies his knowledge on the test track at BMW

Mustafa Tewfig’s paid co-op with BMW provided valuable professional experience and networking opportunities

Mustafa Tewfig holding a piece of paper with the BMW logo on it

Growing up in Northern Virginia, Mustafa Tewfig seemed to always be around tools and construction equipment. In that environment, a love of cars flourished and opened the door to a future career in the automobile industry.

Now a sophomore mechanical engineering student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Tewfig has already gotten hands-on experience in the automotive world through the College of Engineering’s co-op program.

Through that program, Tewfig landed a co-op that began in fall 2022 at BMW’s Plant Spartanburg in South Carolina where he zipped around a test track on some days and worked as a technician taking apart cars on other days.

Unlike a traditional internship where students find a job in their field during the summer or work part-time around their classes, a co-op offers hands-on engineering experience at a full-time job performed during an academic semester. Co-op rotations, which are done at a company instead of taking classes, last around five months and offer the opportunity for real-world learning in the student’s chosen field.

It’s an arrangement where students learn by doing, gain new skills, grow their professional network and set themselves up for a post-graduation job even before earning their degree. 

“It was a match made in heaven,” Tewfig said. “I enjoyed working in the industry immensely, and I’m totally looking forward to the day I can stay in the industry permanently.”

Thanks to the co-op, he did not have to wait to get a start on his career. As a member of the powertrain analysis team at the BMW facility, Tewfig’s job was to drive prototype cars “dynamically” — which basically means getting the most out of a vehicle’s capability and testing its limits.

BMW paid him to drive cars during rigorous tests conducted with an eye towards spotting and addressing any performance issues that arise. Meetings were often held out on a test track rather than in an office boardroom. And sometimes when not behind the wheel, Tewfig was able to work on cars as a technician.

“It was incredibly cool to work on prototype vehicles that have some new, unheard-of technology,” Tewfig said. “Oftentimes, I would have to figure out my own methods, which is a good skill to have for an engineer which involves being a critical thinker and a problem-solver.”

It was a learning experience in many other ways.

Tewfig lived on his own in another state during the co-op, and the experience opened his eyes to the power of social media, using it to network and grow his career while forging connections with coworkers and uncovering job opportunities around the globe.

The co-op also took Tewfig, whose parents are originally from Sudan, on travels throughout the South.

“Most of my coworkers were either from Germany or from South Carolina,” Tewfig said. “While I learned from them how to adapt to the local culture, they also learned from me.”

Among the highlights of his BMW co-op was a work trip to Alabama’s Talladega Raceway where Tewfig and a coworker got to hit 158 mph in the BMW XM on that legendary racetrack.

“We went so fast that the car felt like a private jet on the runway that was ready for take-off, despite the fact that it was extremely planted and surprisingly quiet,” Tewfig said. “The XM is a marvel of engineering as well as the X5, X6 and their variants.”

Tewfig, who plans to earn a master’s degree in mechatronics or automotive engineering after earning his bachelor’s, says the co-op experience gave him a better idea of what he wants to do in the automotive world.

Manufacturing is not where his interest lies. Instead, Tewfig wants to focus on other areas like validation and integration of driving dynamics, powertrains, noise and vibration harshness, automotive electronics, research and development. After his fall rotation ended, Tewfig returned to the Spartanburg facility for subsequent rotations that will run through this December.

Tewfig highly recommends the co-op experience to other students here at VCU, adding that he benefited from the professional growth it offers and the connections he made during the job.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the relationships I formed with my full-time coworkers,” Tewfig says. “I also enjoy the relationships I developed with my fellow co-op/interns. They are my lifelong best friends.”