POETS guides new cohort of grad student leaders

1/19/2024 Julia Park

The center's Future Technical Leaders Program aims to educate engineering doctoral students in leadership, preparing them for C-level positions. This year's cohort includes five outstanding grad students from UIUC and Howard University.

Written by Julia Park

five students head shots
Left to right:  Bakhshish Preet Singh, Jianqiao (Peter) Xiao, Chavonne Bowen, Shayan Aflatounian and Zheng Liu. 

The 2023-24 cohort of the POETS Future Technical Leader Program is well on its way to gaining a set of skills not commonly learned in an engineering PhD program.

The program of the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems aims to educate engineering doctoral students in leadership, preparing them for C-level positions; train students to take a holistic approach to solving today’s most pressing technology challenges in industry; and expand their networks to include leaders and influencers from top tech companies across the country.

This year’s cohort includes graduate students Shayan Aflatounian, Zheng Liu, Bakhshish Preet Singh and Jianqiao (Peter) Xiao from the University of Illinois, and Chavonne Bowen from Howard University.

“Successful STEM leaders in industry face daily challenges in team management, communication skills in a business environment, and with issues of commercialization of research. But graduate students aren’t often exposed to these situations before entering industry. We hope the Future Technical Leader program will bridge this gap for students seeking to pursue leadership positions in industry,” said Tracy Dace, the center’s Associate Director of Education and Inclusivity.

Starting in the fall semester and continuing into the spring, the group has participated in a bi-weekly webinar series in which industry leaders shared their experiences in management as well as introduced business concepts and specific frameworks for effective management. Several program assignments also contribute to their professional growth, including self- and team assessments, individual development plans, an elevator pitch video, and a technical white paper. The program will conclude with students shadowing industry leaders in a multi-day industry site visit.

POETS is a collaboration between Illinois, Howard, Stanford University and the University of Arkansas. The Engineering Research Center launched in 2015 with $18.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation. That initial support has been followed by $30 million in additional funding from NSF and others. Center researchers work to increase power density in electrified mobility, focusing on the technology behind electrification of everything involved in moving goods and people on land, air, and sea.

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This story was published January 19, 2024.