From the outside, an engineer’s job seems to require heavy-duty math and science skills and a robust work ethic. Yet, according to University of Kentucky student Senait Nuguse, engineers must also know how to be leaders.
A senior electrical engineering major from Louisville, Kentucky, Senait has learned her biggest leadership lessons from involvement with the UK Solar Car Team. As a freshman, she met team members at a student organization fair and attended the first meeting but initially felt overwhelmed. With parents from Ethiopia who encouraged her to pursue a medical career, and with no background in engineering, she felt behind the curve. Yet her curiosity propelled her forward.
“It’s very hands-on,” says Senait. “That’s why I think the UK Solar Car Team is one of the best organizations to be a part of—because you’re actually doing something. I like being part of an organization that has a clear goal.”
As a sophomore, her friends urged her to become the electrical team lead for the Solar Car Team, which entails directing all electrical design on the car. Although she was unsure about the public speaking and conflict resolution, she thrived as electrical team lead and the next year accepted the position of overall team manager.
Her duties now include registering for races, working with university boards and a student business team to handle funding, scheduling meetings and deadlines, maintaining team cohesiveness and occasionally managing conflict.
“There’s always some crisis,” she says.
Respecting people for their engineering abilities and working to complete a group project are essential to functioning successfully as a full-time engineer, and Senait has learned it all.
“If I hadn’t joined the team, I don’t know where I would be at this point. It’s put me on a trajectory that I know I wouldn’t otherwise be on,” she says.
She directly attributes her success not only to the solar car team but also to the Engineering Leadership Course, an application-only 15-student class she took as a junior. Stan Pigman, an enthusiastic donor and supporter of the college, and Interim Dean Larry Holloway led the class, impacting Senait by revealing the numerous doors that are open to an engineer.
During the semester, she connected with alumni, learned about current challenges and innovations in the engineering industry, and visited Washington D.C., to meet with engineers employed there. That trip expanded her horizons into the business world, and she now plans on entering UK’s MBA program after graduation and aspires to be a business executive.
“I’m glad that the College of Engineering had these kinds of projects to help me improve as a student,” says Senait. “I really don’t think I would have grown as much as a person without these things in my life.”