LEED Scholars Program

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Meet the LEED Scholars

2018 LEED graduate, Charles Fatunbi, is not only missed by the DAO, but also by the community of students he positively impacted. In numerous ways, Charles embodied LEED’s values of leadership, scholarship and the celebration of diversity. Graduating with a degree in Industrial Engineering and a Certificate in Digital Studies, he also held multiple leadership roles such as president of the African Student Association (ASA), treasurer for National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and treasurer for the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Additionally, Charles was a Student Ambassador for the DAO, serving as a liaison between underrepresented students in Engineering, the administration and corporate partners.

Charles’ commitment to diversity initiatives inspired him to spearhead events such as the ASA Date Auction; whose proceeds were dedicated to a different charitable cause each year. As a part of Kappa Alpha Psi, he upheld their mission of changing the negative perceptions of the African-American community by organizing professional development, financial awareness, and community service events.

Inevitably, the biggest challenge Charles often faced was finding the time to juggle multiple responsibilities. Charles remarked that taking leadership roles was one of best decisions of his life due its significant contribution to his personal growth and professional network. Charles also found a supportive community in his organizations and a rewarding sense of purpose with the positive impact on people around him. Currently, Charles works as a Technology Analyst for Accenture in Minneapolis. He recently joined NSBE’s Twin Cities Professional Chapter which has been a great experience getting to know other young professionals. He aspires to do even more outreach as an alumnus and corporate recruiter here at UW Madison.

Research is one of the most valuable opportunities in which engineering students can participate. Dalila Ricci, a senior majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering shared her experience as an undergraduate research assistant in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Princeton University. During the summer before her sophomore year, she worked with the Aerospace Engineering Department on the fabricating of a microfluidic spray that disintegrated drops to the microscale. Although she had no prior experience in this field, the post-docs on her team devoted ample time to teaching the scientific principles underlying the research. She was also exposed to different advanced technologies such as Scanning Electron Microscopy and expansive 3D printing.

Her major takeaways from the experience were the passion and patience required to invest in research projects. She also stated that her critical scientific thinking and observational skills were especially developed. Most importantly, the collaboration and application of skills across the various teams emphasized how critical a teamwork mindset is to success. In addition to being a tutor at the Undergraduate Learning Center and Secretary of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Dalila’s REU experience greatly contributed to her skillset as an engineering student.

The concurrent pursuit of an Engineering degree and a Division 1 sport makes LEED Scholar, Rashid Coulibaly, exceptional. As a student of Engineering Mechanics and Astronautics, Rashid exemplifies an outstanding ability to balance two completely different worlds. He is not only a gifted pole-vaulter for the UW-Madison Track and Field team but also an active member of Badger Loop and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Rashid’s passion for sports dates back to his childhood. Inspired by the Olympics, he aspired to be part of a similar experience.

Moving to the United States from Cote d’Ivoire in 2008 provided more opportunities to develop his athletic abilities. During junior high, he dabbled with soccer, wrestling, and various track events such as hurdles, sprints and jumps. In high school, he found his passion and intent in pole vaulting for which he exhibited great passion and talent.  Today, he is a highly accomplished pole-vaulter who has won multiple awards in his track career including the Goodman Jewelers Award for Outstanding Freshman Athlete, and has placed at Big Ten Indoors, Big Ten Outdoors and All American.

Three hours of daily practice and frequent travel in addition to a rigorous academic schedule are not a cakewalk. Rashid attributes his success to effective time management and working smarter rather than harder. He finds support with his teammates that are also engineering students. Overall, Rashid states that being part of the track team has instilled in him the values of responsibility, accountability and a teamwork mindset.

Milwaukee native Devin Lafford’s path to computer engineering started when he was young. Before he even knew what engineering was, he wanted to invent new things. He remembers taking apart his mother’s computer to fix it and being fascinated by the intricacy of the hardware inside. In his high school years, his teacher at Rufus King High School further nurtured his passion for computers when he mentored him through a summer science course where Devin was the only student enrolled.

As a college student, Devin credits his success to his LEED mentor, who provided academic insight, and his mother, who instilled the values of self-confidence and resilience in him. These skills guided him to persevere through his rigorous first semester. Devin benefited from resources provided by the LEED Scholars Program, such as tutoring, supplemental instruction and office hours. In addition to his academic achievements, Devin has worked with the Simulation-Based Engineering Lab (SBEL) and has held a software engineering internship with Cardiac Science, a company specializing in the design of defibrillators. When asked his best advice for new students, he notes that the cliché “go to office hours” might be overlooked, but he could not emphasize its importance enough.

Reflecting on why some groups are underrepresented in engineering and science, Devin thought that the biggest challenge is the limited exposure of the possibilities in STEM careers in these communities. He identified his early exposure to Computer Engineering as his inspiration to pursue the field. As such, Devin is always enthusiastic to share his academic experiences to the community around him, with the goal of igniting a similar interest.


ElizabethPennElise Penn is an outstanding LEED alumna who graduated with a degree in Geological Engineering. As a high school senior, Elise was accepted to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Stanford, Oxford, MIT and UW-Madison. She chose to pursue engineering at UW-Madison, attributing her decision to the hospitable environment along with the numerous academic and developmental opportunities such as undergraduate research. She was additionally inspired by her participation in Engineering Summer Program (ESP) as a high school student, describing her counselors as academically successful, confident and mature mentors. ESP provided a glimpse into the rigor of college coursework and provided a community of engineering students who became her support network throughout her college career. In the spirit of gratitude for the program, she later participated as a counselor.

Elise’s academic diligence earned her multiple accomplishments. She graduated a member of the Tau Beta Phi engineering honor society and received prestigious scholarships such as the Barry Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduate excellence in the sciences and the NOAA Undergraduate scholarship. Shortly before graduation, she received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship award to pursue research as a graduate student. Beyond academics, she participated in undergraduate research with Professor Tracey Holloway at SAGE (Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment) where she worked with comparing satellite data for air quality to ground base data. She also worked in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

She attributes her success to seeking help when challenged and allocating time to physical and mental well-being, and finding a support network.