Engineering student gains real-world insight during internship experience


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With thousands of startup companies emerging each year — many located in State College — the need for qualified employees with a passion for entrepreneurship continues to grow. The newly established entrepreneurship internship (ENtern) program at Penn State was created to provide students with opportunities to gain real-world experiences in entrepreneurship while helping local startups expand and succeed.

Khaled Khalil, a fourth-year architectural engineering student, took advantage of this opportunity. Over the course of the summer and fall 2020 semesters, Khalil worked as an ENtern with Xora, a State College startup that develops mobile cloud-based augmented reality (AR) experiences for architecture and construction companies.

Created in 2020, the ENtern entrepreneurship internship program aims to support students in the intercollege minor in entrepreneurship and innovation (ENTI), while also helping startups in the area by providing them with student interns who could potentially become future employees and team members. To launch the program, a partnership with Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank was initiated by the engineering entrepreneurship program, housed within the College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs.

“This program created an opportunity for me to continue pursing my ENTI minor in a manner that was outside of a predetermined class and more of an as-you-go experience,” Khalil said.

Khalil worked as both a product developer and a sales manager for Xora, an experience that took him out of his comfort zone, he said. The internship taught him an array of new skills and ultimately showed him what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Khalil also mentioned that he particularly enjoyed working with an engaging multidisciplinary team that included supportive team members willing to invest their time and expertise in helping him succeed.

“I learned that the roles and titles aren't as clear or defined in a startup,” Khalil said. “For the most part, everyone on the team can be considered a product developer and sales manager. We're all talking on the phone trying to find our next superfans. We're all pitching to several people who could equally say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and we're all interpreting information and applying it to the product. Having the opportunity to learn about all the prospects necessary in building a company, although brutal, those learning curves are very much appreciated.”

During his time at Xora, Khalil broadened his understanding of AR and VR concepts. According to Khalil, in a world where technology is constantly evolving, VR and AR are becoming increasingly important components of advancing buildings and architectural processes.

“I believe AR is the best way to incorporate the 3D atmosphere of VR with the context of real-life to view architecture and get a real sense of space, scale and feel of the architecture,” Khalil said. “I genuinely believe that if Xora succeeds, so does the architecture, engineering and construction industry.”

Khalil said he plans to use the knowledge he gained from this internship to further his academic and professional career.

“This internship experience has been outstanding in that it's taught me various new skills in such a short period,” he said. “I think I ultimately gained a greater appreciation for the intricacies of developing AR experiences from the developer team, and that has since inspired me to consider augmented reality as a medium for the work and architecture I develop throughout my architectural engineering education and career.”

Although his internship ended, Khalil currently works full time for Xora, helping the startup scout for companies interested in participating in its beta-testing program — an initiative that gives companies the opportunity to work alongside Xora by testing its architecture, engineering and construction augmented reality rendering platform. He said his experience with the ENtern entrepreneurship intern program helped him find a startup company that truly aligned with his career goals, and ultimately, that helped him secure a full-time position with Xora.

“I would recommend this internship program to other students,” Khalil said. “It presents the opportunity to work with a team you are incredibly compatible with or work on a startup idea that you truly believe in. If students can find an opportunity to do both, like I did, that’s an ace in the hole.”

About the ENtern spotlight series

The ENtern spotlight series aims to highlight ENtern entrepreneurship internship program students, their entrepreneurial mindset and spirit and their internships with local Centre Region startups. To be considered for an ENternship, students must be enrolled in Penn State’s intercollege minor in entrepreneurship and innovation. To learn more about the program, contact Ted Graef, director of engineering entrepreneurship, at


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Megan Lakatos

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Khaled Khalil, fourth-year architectural engineering student. IMAGE: PENN STATE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING