As a former executive board member for the first cohort, Rad said that helping develop the program showed him that “there are no similar academies within the university”. Rad says he was excited by the notion of JLLA’s program when it was founded in 2018, because the curriculum is so unique and accounts for that gap within the engineering education.
Experience is the only practical application to build these skills and become a confident leader. JLLA’s workshops on leadership philosophy and conflict resolution translate into his role as co-founder and CEO of Encapsulate LLC.
“I take my role [as CEO and co-founder] very seriously and am dedicated to advancing my skills for the betterment of my company,” said Rad. “Even though I was trained in Engineering for about 10 years, I never was exposed to the leadership aspect of engineering that is necessary for the industry.”
Now that Rad has a solid foundation of leadership skills, he says he would like to continue working on Encapsulate. Eventually, he would also like to work in academia to give back to knowledge he has acquired.
An integral aspect of the John Lof Scholars curriculum is creating culturally competent visionaries by means of “engaging communities inside and outside the School to promote, and provide mentoring and support where appropriate.”
This mission is executed in a “for us, by us” philosophy, in which John Lof Scholars develop through focused training, specialized workshops, and active learning through outreach and enterprise on and off the UConn campus.
In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, all members were invited to learn about the Black American experience by engaging with books, podcasts, and documentaries. A compilation of resources was also created for everyone to engage with at their own pace.
“Within JLLA, we have always worked towards creating a space of honest and open communication where our members can come together to learn, fail, and grow,” said JLLA President Randi Mendes. “This poses a unique opportunity to learn from one another and have these hard but necessary conversations.”
The first meeting was an open forum with guided questions on the first episode of “1619,” a New York Times audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones.
“It is important that us white people do our part to learn about our fellow peers’ experience,” Anna Marie LaChance says . “This is their life and history, education is the only way to assure we don’t reproduce the same problems. Holding ourselves accountable is a life-long commitment- we are only just beginning.”
JLLA Vice President Stephany Santos emphasized that “we must work together to create a new normal that is forward.”
Bilal Khan is a third-year Ph.D. student in Electrical Engineering and also received his bachelor’s from the University of Connecticut. He currently researches fabrication semiconductor devices in a microfabrication lab.
Khan moved to the US when he was nine-years old from Pakistan. He connects with his Pakistani roots by learning languages endemic to the middle eastern region: Urdu, Dari, Hindi, Farsi and English.
Being multilingual enables Khan to connect with others, just as JLLA helps him connect and work with other engineers.
“It’s refreshing to have other people’s point of views on how you should proceed with a particular problem or how to navigate the world of graduate school.”
Having a space dedicated to personal growth is essential for becoming an exceptional leader. Khan says that helping develop JLLA’s program was a practical application of leadership abilities.
“I feel like it’s going to continue evolving and continue changing into something even better than what it is now, because it’s all a learning process.”
Roman Mays is a third-year Ph.D. candidate and GEM fellow in Electrical Engineering with a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.
As a Senator in the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and executive board member in the Student Association of Graduate Engineers (SAGE), Mays is a demonstrated leader within his community.
Mays was inducted into the first cohort of JLLA members and says that the first year was dedicated to developing a strong organization.
“It was upon us to build the program and figure out what we wanted to get out of it. So, we created a space where we can better the prowess of leadership within the members of this community.”
Now that he has experienced two years of curriculum, Mays says that practicing different leadership styles have prepared him for his career.
“You get to see other people from different disciplines of engineering with different leadership qualities, and you learn from the leadership qualities through workshops,” said Mays. “You get to see what’s effective, what’s not effective and you get to then better yourself, not only as a person, but as a leader going into graduate studies and into the workforce.”
Farnoosh Saeedinejad is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering from Iran. Her first language is Farsi, so Saeedinejad knew her choice to pursue a doctoral degree would be an opportunity to develop and challenge herself.
Currently, Saeedinejad researches effective drug delivery methods in the Self-Assembled Functional Nanomaterials Labunder Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh. She is also an Orientation Representative with International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS).
Saeedinejad wants to pursue a career in industry when she graduates, because she wants to see the impact of her work. In order to better prepare for her career and develop a network in her new country, she joined JLLA’s first cohort in 2018.
“When I first heard about JLLA, I thought that it was a good opportunity to get out of my comfort zone,” said Saeedinejad. “Having gone through the curriculum, I can say I learned about myself and how I interact best with others.”
JLLA gave Saeedinejad the space for growth and a safe environment to learn through practicing and attending workshops.
“I don’t see myself as a natural leader, but acknowledging that and pushing myself to work towards that goal made a huge difference.”