Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Alumnus Rodney Kizito BSIE '15 thrives in PhD program at the University of Tennessee

Read Rodney's story at the Tickle College of Engineering.

Industrial and systems engineering Department Head John Kobza describes PhD student Rodney Kizito as an “industrial engineering cheerleader,” and an overall great ambassador for the department. Kizito’s dedication and enthusiasm earned him notice as the 2020 Outstanding Graduate Student in ISE.

Kizito says of many accomplishments in his time as an Engineering Vol, he is proudest of an article he published in the IEEE journal in January 2020.

“It’s been a goal of mine my entire five-year graduate career, and to accomplish it in my final year was truly a blessing,” he said. The article focused on his research into the optimization of solar-based microgrid system operation. “I’m building a case for why utility companies should consider investing in microgrids as a way to provide power to their serviced regions in the event of a large-scale disturbance, such as a hurricane or tornado, to the traditional power grid.”

Kizito’s motivation stems from a uniquely personal life experience. He migrated with his family to the US from Uganda in 1999 at the tender age of six.

“My parents gave up everything to give my siblings and me a chance at a better education, and life in general, here in the States,” said Kizito. “My family is one of the fortunate families that gets to chase the American dream from Uganda, thus I wanted to pursue my PhD with a research focus that can help my fellow countrymen back home.”

More than 40 million people live in Uganda, yet less than 25 percent of the country had access to electricity when Kizito began grad school in 2015. This didn’t seem right to him.

“The one thing Uganda does have in abundance is the sun,” he said. “I decided to pursue a research track focused in harnessing solar energy as a means for power generation. My prayer is that I am able to help bring regular electricity access to my fellow countrymen, and make great use of the opportunity I was blessed to receive to study in the USA.”

Kizito works both locally and globally to give back to his community. He has worked with UT’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to help connect members from across the country to the ISE graduate program at UT.

“I enjoyed doing so because I know how beneficial NSBE has been for me in my 10-year collegiate career,” he said. “Being a recruiter for the department allows me help open up graduate school opportunities for NSBE members looking to continue their education.”

He also enthusiastically appreciates the many ways his academic goals have been boosted at UT: acceptance and encouragement from the ISE department; support from the university’s grant partnerships with the Department of Energy; and helpful challenges from his advisor, Professor Xueping Li.

“Dr. Li has challenged me academically, professionally and personally,” said Kizito. “He has challenged how I approach problems, especially those that don’t necessarily fall in my lane of expertise. I can’t say enough of how grateful I am for his leadership and guidance as my advisor, but even more for how he has cared for me as a person.”

He looks forward to completing his PhD in December. In the meantime, he couples his research with working with Associate Dean Ozlem Kilic to improve the college’s efforts at recruiting students from underrepresented areas of the population.

“After graduation, I hope to work for a renewable energy developer while I continue establishing my entrepreneurial consulting firm goals,” said Kizito. “I will forever be a proud graduate of Big Orange.”


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Author: Tickle College of Engineering, 3/31/2020

Contact: Paul Kovach