Senior profile: Davey Schoenberg
Developing machines, religious identity at the same time
Religious communities face unique challenges, and sometimes it takes an engineer to come up with a creative solution.
When Davey Schoenberg was designing the senior capstone project for his S.B. in mechanical engineering, he decided to tackle an engineering challenge specific to the Orothox Jewish community in which he was raised. In many Jewish traditions, operating a light switch is considered labor, and thus not allowed on holy days. So, Schoenberg designed a long-lasting mechanical timer that could adjust when lights turn on and off in one’s home.
“On a holiday, according to many opinions, you’re allowed to adjust something mechanically even if it leads to work happening,” he said. “In Orthodox tradition outside of Israel, basically every holiday is two days long. So that’s a lot of time in advance to know whether you want a light on at 8 or 10 a.m., especially if you have friends coming over and don’t know when. My device is easily installed and mechanically adjustable. One of the things that I worked really hard on was making sure it had a reasonable battery life, and I got it to over two years.”
Schoenberg, who grew up in Massachusetts, arrived at Harvard already interested in mechanical engineering, and found a home at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
“I really love tinkering and playing with things,” he said. “I’d make various gadgets such as a pulley system to turn my light off from my bed.”
What Schoenberg didn’t expect was how much Harvard would allow him to develop his religious identity, oftentimes at the same time he was developing as an engineer. Several of his engineering projects at SEAS were related to his faith, such as laser-cutting, staining and engraving wooden cards for use during religious services.
Schoenberg built the cards in the Active Learning Labs. He also designed his senior thesis there, constructing a battery-powered timer that magnetically snaps over a light switch, which can then be manually adjusted to switch lights on or off at a predetermined time.
“The Active Learning Lab staff was absolutely incredible,” he said. “I developed relationships with everyone on the mechanical engineering team, specifically director Elaine Kristant and Steven Cortesa, as well as the electrical engineering team. They were hugely helpful. I couldn’t have accomplished what I did in my senior project without their support. But also leading up to that throughout my time, I’d hang out and do personal projects there, and there were such amazing things that I was able to create.”
His studies earned him multiple academic awards, including the Detur Book Prize for sophomores in high academic standing and two John Harvard Scholar awards for students in the top 5 % of their class.
In his four years at Harvard, Schoenberg was part of the Mech Warfare team of the Harvard University Robotics Club, did four different engineering internships, and was a co-inventor on a patent application.
He also worked as a student librarian in the Littauer Judaica Division of Harvard College Library, held officer positions at Harvard Hillel, and served as a technical officer for CrimsonEMS, using his computer science education to revamp the organization’s website while also becoming a fully licensed emergency medical technician.
Upon completing his studies in December, Schoenberg moved to Israel, where he is working to transfer his license, so he can continue as an EMT.
“I felt like I didn’t know what to do in an emergency medical situation, so I wanted to take an EMT course so I’d have the background of understanding what I could do to help if I saw something,” he said. “It was mostly so I could be a more educated lay person. But over time there I really came to appreciate what I could do as an EMT, as a certified professional acting with that license, so over time I just participated in it more and more.”
Schoenberg will return to campus for the first time since moving to Israel to walk during Commencement. He feels a strong sense of gratitude for the opportunities the school gave him to grow in so many ways. Now he wants to end his time here in style before starting the next stage of his life.
“During my eight semesters I really developed as a person, both in my own values and character, as well as interpersonal relationships,” Schoenberg said. “That was something I didn’t even realize I’d get out of Harvard. But when I look back at reasons I’m particularly happy to have been at Harvard, it’s that my time at Harvard really helped me become a person I’m much happier with.”
Matt Goisman | email@example.com