Designing success: UL College of Engineering program molds students into leaders

Posted at 10:49 AM, May 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-08 11:49:37-04


UL Lafayette

Photo: Hanz Unurh, a doctoral student in systems engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, is a member of the College of Engineering’s Designing Leaders Program. The program is intended to help students develop leadership skills and learn about what to expect upon entering the workforce. Doug Dugas/University of Louisiana at Lafayette


Hanz Unurh, a doctoral student in systems engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, owns a thriving real estate appraisal company in his native Honduras.

He runs the business remotely, thanks to a competent team he communicates with via phone and email.

The 36-year-old says that although the enterprise is prospering, he isn’t satisfied. He envisions opening a second company – or parlaying his doctoral degree into a high-paying job in industry – while continuing to run his real estate business.

That’s why he’s a member of the College of Engineering’s Designing Leaders Program. The eight-week lecture series is held in Madison Hall during the spring semester for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing an engineering or industrial technology degree.

About 40 students participated during the Spring 2019 semester. They are chosen by a panel of faculty members. “It’s a good opportunity to get what you can’t get in the classroom,” Unurh said.

The program is intended to fan innate leadership qualities. It is also in place to help students figure out their leadership styles.

They receive guidance from CEOs, business owners, public officials, academics, entrepreneurs and other leaders who talk about their leadership styles and keys to success.

Students get a range of pointers, including what to expect when entering the workforce, how to draft a business plan, the importance of ethics in the workplace, and tips for public speaking.

Unurh said advice from proven leaders provides inspiration and insight that helps him envision ways he might flourish in his own career.

“This program gives you an opportunity to hear from people who have already done things you are interested in and who have been very successful at it,” he explained.

Take Eric Knezek, a recent Designing Leaders panelist. He told students resiliency in the face of setbacks and a willingness to take risks are crucial traits for success.

He speaks from experience.

Faltering eyesight in his mid-20s grounded the former U.S. Navy lieutenant’s plan to become a fighter pilot and astronaut.

Knezek, who earned bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in oceans engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, was ultimately offered a teaching position at the academy.

“It would have been a great opportunity, a very secure job,” he told students.

But Knezek, now 44, decided against the safe route. He wanted more control over how quickly and how high he could rise.

Knezek is founder and managing partner of Truston Technologies Inc. The company, based in Annapolis, provides engineering and advanced material fabrication services. It also offers general and specialty marine construction services to government and industry.

“The fact that I had this goal to be an astronaut got me to Annapolis. Then I set a different goal – owning a company.”

Dr. Mark Zappi, a chemical engineering professor, started the Designing Leaders Program in 2012 to provide participants “tools that will help them be more complete employees.”

“Everybody has the potential to be a leader, and everybody will lead differently. No single style is right. It’s what’s right for you,” Zappi explained.

Learn more about the Designing Leaders Program.