University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Nalubega Wants to Make a Difference in Her Home Country of Uganda

Charlene Nalubega

Charlene Nalubega, a junior industrial engineering major whose family now lives in Ashland, Massachusetts, is spending much of her time in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department working toward a noble goal. Nalubega came to the United States in 2009 from Uganda, and someday after she has become a professional engineer she would like to return there to help her country’s development and progress. “I wanted to do industrial engineering because there are a lot of systems in my country that are developed, but they need improvement,” says Nalubega. “As an industrial engineer, I would have the tools and the education to help make those improvements. I would be especially interested in renewable energy or recycling, which both need improving in Uganda. Someday I would like the opportunity to help my country in that way.”

Toward that end, Nalubega is involved in a host of educational activities to help her become a more well-rounded student, make use of the tools she is honing at the college, and turn her into a proficient professional. In addition to her busy coursework, these vital activities include undergraduate research, academic projects, and participating in student chapters of professional engineering societies.

“I think UMass is a very good place to explore yourself,” says Nalubega. “I grew up in a country with more limited opportunities, especially for women. There are only a few paths toward upward mobility. What I mean is that you might become a doctor or a lawyer, but there are not that many other paths. Here there are many opportunities, and you can do anything you want. So I like the way my future is in my own hands.”

Nalubega is exploring herself in ways that will make her a better engineer and a more fulfilled person. One way is the research she has been doing on offshore wind turbines in conjunction with MIE Professor Erin Baker.

As Nalubega explains, “The focus of my research is to estimate the cost of floating offshore wind turbines, and how the cost changes with changes in design. The overall goal of the larger project is to bring down the cost of the wind farms in the deep waters so they can be able to compete with wind farms in shallow water as well as on land-based wind farms. The specific offshore wind energy case under consideration consists of three-bladed, 10-megawatt floating wind turbines in deep waters producing a total of 1,000 megawatts of electricity. The floating technology used will be a tension leg platform. Instead of assembling the wind turbines in shallow water or in the target location, we will model a system where the wind-turbine components will be shipped to the coast and the wind turbines will be completely assembled on shore and floated out to the target location using tugboat‐like vessels.”

She adds that “We were building a numerical cost model in excel. The costs were broken down into material, manufacturing, and installation costs where possible. We considered the costs of the main turbine parts, namely the rotor, drive-train nacelle, support structure, and the balance of system. With the cost breakdown, the lowest possible cost per kilowatt hour was determined.”

As you can see, this is very sophisticated work for a college junior. But Nalubega doesn’t shy away from jumping into the deep water, either in her research or her daily activities. She is also deeply involved with the student governance of her UMass residence hall at Orchard Hill, and in the campus chapters of three national engineering organizations: the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Institute of Industrial Engineers.

In addition, she has done some valuable academic team projects, including working on a four-person team to identify and evaluate a new Aptera Type II Hybrid car in which she co-authored a written report to address the mechanical, economic, environmental aspects of the product. Nalubega also worked on a three-person team to choose and evaluate a new site for an International Porsche Manufacturing Facility. In the process, her team projected the costs and benefits of three optimal sites, chose the best alternative, and communicated the results in a memorandum and brief oral presentation in front of 40 peers and a faculty member.

As Nalubega observes about her active schedule, “Here the professors really encourage you, and the college gives you many opportunities for educational activities. In fact, in some ways there are too many opportunities, which is a very good problem to have. You have to be very organized and choose your priorities, so you don’t overextend yourself. You need to focus on what to take on and what not to choose.

“I have become so active here because I want to apply my studies and find out what it’s like to do hands-on engineering. In this way I’d like to find out exactly what it will be like to work as a professional industrial engineer after I graduate.” (September 2013)