Hajim Spotlights

Kapambwe Chalwe

Class of 2020
Major: electrical and computer engineering
Challenge: making solar energy available

Kapambwe, who is from the Copperbelt District of Zambia, says words “cannot be enough" to describe his "wonderful experience” at the University of Rochester, where he has experienced a “wonderful flexible curriculum and exuberant social life.”

In addition to participating in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, Kapambwe has:

  • Participated in hands-on research as a Xerox Engineering Research Fellow in the lab of Wendi Heinzelman, professor of electrical and computer engineering and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
  • Received a Davis Projects for Peace award, with two other students, to establish a greenhouse farming business in Tanzania run by teenage girls who were forced to leave school and work in abusive environments.
  • Served as the Pan-African Students Association president.
  • Served as International Student Affairs Committee Chair.
  • Participated in the University’s Gospel Choir.
  • Played club soccer.

Kapambwe, who has a “predilection for solving socio-economic problems in developing countries,” describes his participation in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program in this Q&A.

Q. Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges Program?

I have always believed that humanity would always do something great if they can only push themselves a little further and ensure that we addressed some of the challenges happening in the world. When I heard about the opportunity with the Grand Challenges Scholar Program, I thought this would be one of the perfect guided practical academic programs that would cement my theoretical engineering and business experience. This led me to participate and add my name to those trying to make the world a better place to live in.

Q. Which of the five competencies did you most enjoy completing? Why?

I enjoyed the whole experience but the one I enjoyed doing the most was entrepreneurship. I really underestimated the work that would come from this competency because I believed that I only needed my engineering experience to solve the problems in energy. However, this was not true.

When I began the process, I was able to participate in a design thinking workshop with the Izone. Learning from other people who had more experience gave me a different lens in how I saw problems. One my professors had been a successful entrepreneur, and just having that coach next to me and guiding gave me extra energy to navigate the biggest issues in the field of solar power. Working as part of a team also helped me know how to communicate with others.

This not only helped me in the Grand Challenges Scholar program, but also in creating and nurturing a greenhouse farming business run by teenaged girls who were forced to leave school and work in abusive environments. The funds that these young women are raising from their business is enabling them to go back to school.  Management and financial skills also came out in this competency, which later saw me manage huge  budgets in a responsible and ethical manner. This also helped me figure out that I loved the finance part of my projects more than engineering, even though I was an engineering major.

Q. Are there things you learned while completing the competencies that you would not have learned in a classroom or lab?

The electrical and computer engineering courses at the University are mostly between software and hardware. However, my project was completely hardware and dealt with electrical power. I had the opportunity to learn and work with engineers from Zambia who gave me a different perspective about how to think about this new type of field. I had to restructure most of my previous plans and accommodate this new skill that I never knew was going to be very important.

Q. After you graduate, do you think you will want to continue to work or pursue graduate studies in the same field as the challenge you tackled? How will you do that?

Firstly, it is important to understand that the Grand Challenges Program is not a challenge that would end because you have graduated; it is a challenge you have forever in your heart, to contribute long-lasting solutions to the world. Until I see my city,  my village, and the rest of the world have power, I will not stop making the right efforts.

Q. How did being at the University of Rochester help you complete this program?

I will forever appreciate being a University of Rochester student and now officially an alumni. The University gave me the right resources including funding, mentorship, and being surrounded by a great faculty. The funding from the fellowships allowed me to intern abroad in other countries twice. I also received a lot of mentorship, especially from Julia Maddox and the Izone team. With this mentorship I was able to acquire other forms of knowledge and networks that supported me during my project. Last but not the least, almost every faculty member gave me the opportunity to share with them what I was passionate about. It is through sharing these opportunities that led me to be able to do research with a Xerox Research Engineering Fellowship and learn a lot from Dean Heinzelman’s lab.

Q. What is the value of the Grand Challenges program for a student?

Click here to see Kapambwe's GCS poster.