by Nahom Fissaha, September 5, 2019. This article originally appeared in the KEEN 2019 Annual Report. Reprinted with permission.
I have always been curious. Growing up in Ethiopia, I could be found taking apart and assembling my toys to learn how they worked. After moving to northern Virginia, I watched videos and read instruction manuals to take on maintenance work around the house. I also started developing interpersonal and communication skills early on, thanks to working at my mother’s farmer’s market stand and store.
I knew what I wanted to be: A philanthropist, a leader, an entrepreneur. In other words, an engineer.
James Madison University’s project-based engineering program helped it all come together. The program built on my natural curiosity and passion for learning, fostering a broader mindset. My time at JMU opened doors by providing an opportunity to work on eight different projects, participate in leadership roles through the Madison Engineering Leadership Program, and as a Stanford University Innovation Fellow, which helped students embrace human-centered design.
As an undergraduate student, I also created an e-portfolio to help share my projects and passions with potential employers. When Microsoft reached out to me while I was still at JMU, I used my e-portfolio in the interviews, showing instead of just telling what mattered to me. And it worked.
Augmented Reality Textbook
Early assembly, version 2, of a custom bike for a 9 year old boy with cerebral palsy
The custom bike in action!
Of the two positions I was offered, I chose the consultant role. I wanted to keep working with a team to create new solutions. Here, it’s about clients, not code: Researching customer needs and working with them to develop the right solutions.
I am grateful for the foundation of learning I had in my early years, and for working with brilliant mentors while at JMU who helped me overcome challenges and keep growing.
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