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Tolu Ogunlowo ‘14 Builds Hybrid Race Car for Senior Capstone Project at Notre Dame

Musodiq Tolu Ogunlowo ‘14 graduates from the University of Notre Dame after completing his Capstone Project within the school’s Formula Hybrid racing program.

When university students think about leaving a legacy after they graduate, very few would picture their legacy in the form of a car. However, that is exactly the legacy that Tolu Ogunlowo ‘14 left when he graduated from The University of Notre Dame in May. 

Tolu, who hails from Lagos, Nigeria, came into Notre Dame already knowing that he wanted to study Electrical Engineering. He credits ALA for this strong sense of purpose, even as a first year university student. He says that the Academy taught him that, “when you’re trying to decide what you want to do with your career, think about… how can you merge your interests and your skills with a challenge that will actually impact the lives of a lot of people?.” This lesson is what helped Tolu narrow his Electrical Engineering studies to focus on renewable energy. He recognized how the growing global demand for energy affects not only communities close to home, but also continues to negatively impact the environment. 

Tolu’s focus on renewable energy drew him to the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (ND Energy), an organization that serves as the hub for energy-related research and education programs at the university. Getting involved with ND Energy further ignited Tolu’s passion, and he was subsequently awarded The Vincent P. Slatt Fellowship for Undergraduate Research in Energy Systems and Processes, not once, but twice! This fellowship spurred Tolu to further refine his studies, tailoring his academic experience to focus on renewable energy research and how it pertains to the African continent. As a Slatt Fellow, he had many opportunities to conduct research and build renewable energy devices while he was home in Lagos during school breaks.   

Notre Dame Formula SAE Hybrid Racing Team prototype
image credit: @NDhybrid

Initially, Tolu did not have a particularly strong interest in including electric vehicles as a part of his research. However, that began to change by his third year at Notre Dame. Explaining the shift in thinking, he shared, “one of the really important things for the future is going to be the infrastructure that powers electric vehicles.” A year later, he joined the Notre Dame Formula SAE Hybrid Racing Program, which provided an ideal niche for Tolu to pursue all of these interests while also completing his Senior Design Capstone. 

The goal of the team is to race a hybrid electric vehicle; the cars are built from the ground up  by students and then passed down to subsequent teams. When Tolu’s team received their car, it had already been constructed, but it needed alterations and its systems needed to be redesigned before it would be race-ready. This aspect of the project called for creativity in a way that Tolu did not expect. He reflects, “One of the most difficult times to create is when you’re not starting from scratch, you’re working on something that has been worked on before….inasmuch as you have something that has already been done, that doesn’t mean it’s sacred.” Tolu’s specific task was to improve the original programming and build a system that allows the car to send critical data to a separate computer where the vehicle’s performance can be monitored while it’s in motion. 

Unfortunately, the Notre Dame campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before Tolu’s team got to race their car or put finishing touches on the body. Although the group was forced to submit their report virtually, they were encouraged by the wealth of resources and research that they were able to leave behind, as that allows the next team that inherits the car to continue to improve upon their work. 

Reflecting on the project as a whole, Tolu also expressed how much he learned from doing group work while at ALA – “If there was one thing I really learned at ALA, it was how to pursue the big picture with other individuals…Being able to rally people around, delegate different tasks, and take control of your own tasks are definitely things that I feel like I was able to somewhat perfect at ALA.”

Tolu graduated on Saturday, May 16th, earning a degree in Electrical Engineering with an energy concentration, and will be joining Eli Lilly and Company. ALA congratulates Tolu on his graduation, and wishes him all the best as he starts his career!    

Do you know any young change-makers in your community like Tolu?