Amazing Students

Kenneth Ndyabawe

As a Ph.D. student in the College of Engineering, Kenneth Ndyabawe has helped develop a “brain-on-a-chip,” mentored undergraduates and assisted new international students. But he’s also found the time to do a little singing and dancing along the way.


Kampala, Uganda.

High School:

Mbarara High School (Uganda)

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in engineering

Expected graduation:

December 2017

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

As part of my Ph.D. research under Dr. William Kisaalita (my major professor) and my advisory committee members, I have developed a chip to mimic specific aspects of human brain functionality and neurological diseases. We hope that this “brain-on-a-chip” will help in testing and predicting how drugs targeting neurological diseases would actually work in humans. I have also been involved in creating other tools (microdevices and software) for tissue engineering and drug discovery. We are currently in the process of acquiring patents for some of the devices. My major professor also does work to develop low-technology solutions to improve incomes for people, in developing countries, who earn less than $5 per day. Besides my Ph.D. research I have been involved in developing renewable energy powered milk cooling systems targeting smallholder dairy farmers. Because of this work, I was honored with an award of membership to American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Program for Excellence in Science.

Sharing knowledge has been one of my favorite experiences at UGA. I have had the honor to mentor eight undergraduate students in research, some of whom have now enrolled into our graduate program and others have moved on to industry and are doing amazing things. Besides research, I have been committed to teaching in the College of Engineering. I have been a teaching assistant for five undergraduate courses and given guest lectures in the College of Engineering and department of physics. In 2015, I received College of Engineering Teaching Assistant Award and the University of Georgia Center for Teaching and Learning Outstanding Teaching Award in 2016. As a consequence, I was honored with acceptance into the Future Faculty Program — although I later wasn’t able to enroll in the program due to other commitments.

In addition, I have been active in leadership in the College of Engineering and outside community. In the 2015/16 academic year, I was president of the Engineering Graduate Club. I have also been a member of Athens SHARE, a hospitality group that helps welcome new international students and partners them with American families to create a cross-cultural experience. I love singing, and I sing at a church in Athens. I have had the opportunity to sing at other events over the past few years.  One of the profound memories I will probably carry all my life was when I got an opportunity to sing at a Georgia state prison for a day — there are so many life lessons I learned from conversations with these guys during my breaks.

I am involved in several extracurricular activities at the university and in the community, like soccer (both intramural and community leagues). My teams have won at least one or two championships every year for the last three years. I have received some awards from local races (running) and this year I had an opportunity to perform in the UGA Ballroom Performance Group’s annual show (Ballroom Magic 2017) with many talented students.

Current Employment:

Graduate research and teaching assistant in the College of Engineering.

Family Ties to UGA:

None — all my family is in Uganda. I am the first Dawg in the family, but ask me this question in 30 years. I intend to produce a whole line of Dawgs.

I chose to attend UGA because…

I met Dr. Kisaalita while he was doing one of his international research projects in Uganda, and I got an opportunity to work with him. At the time, I was looking at enrolling into graduate programs in Europe. Over time we talked about life at UGA and Athens, the kind of work he was doing at UGA and the College of Engineering’s interdisciplinary training approach. From these talks with him, I knew UGA was a perfect fit for me.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… research in the lab, talking to professors and colleagues in the College of Engineering. I also really like to go to the science library and look at pictures and read captions of random books. Definitely walking at the intramural fields (especially when I have something on my mind), and I tend to find myself in the dance building a lot lately — dancing.

When I have free time, I like…

… to run or play soccer at the intramural fields, practice dance choreography, practice songs that I am supposed to sing or try to figure out how to play random songs on my guitar, reading/relaxing at the fountain on North Campus. There is something calming about that fountain. I also like to try new recipes, so I will cook all sorts of weird things. Also watch some TV shows, catch up on interesting things people are doing out there (through reading popular press articles, YouTube clips, etc.), hang out with friends or just nap.

The craziest thing I've done is…

A few years ago, a friend of mine let me fly his plane. I had never flown before but I had watched him take off and land. I was so sure I could do it without help. I took off fine, but the landing wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined. My ego was bruised but I think if it wasn’t for the storm, I would have totally made it.

My favorite place to study is…

… Driftmier Engineering Center and the science library.

My favorite professor is…

Ouch! If you know the professors in the College of Engineering, you will know how tough this choice is. I have loved every professor I have had the opportunity to interact with or work with in some capacity. They are all pleasant and always eager to help. I have also taken classes in departments outside engineering — like mathematics, physics, life sciences, statistics, etc. — and have only met wonderful professors. But if I must choose, allow me to negotiate to three: Dr. William S. Kisaalita, Dr. Mark Haidekker and Dr. Siddharth Savadatti. They sum up everything I aspire to be and are the first professors I run to every time I need advice or help.

I have learned a lot from talking to Dr. Kisaalita and just watching him work as well as deal with people. He is the most hardworking person I have ever met. He always gives everyone his full attention despite his busy schedule — he always says people are more important than work. I have gone to him with questions related to research, personal growth and personal interests and somehow talking to him always makes everything better. He is always challenging me to be a better and more rounded individual by exposing me to challenges and knowledge beyond my comfort zone. Just knowing how much he believes in me makes me feel like I could accomplish anything. I recently realized that when I am stuck on something, my intuition is to ask myself, “What would Dr. Kisaalita advise you to do in a situation like this?” He has definitely had his mark on my life beyond being a major professor; he has been a role model, a dad and importantly a friend.

I always tell my friends that my life goal is to be only half as smart as Dr. Haidekker. Every time I talk to him, I am amazed at how knowledgeable he is. I have had an opportunity to take classes with him, and he works hard to explain concepts to make sure no student is left behind. Perhaps the thing that makes him so amazing is that he is very hands on — he builds lots of models and devices just for demonstration in classes. I have also worked closely with him in research and he always sacrifices his time for the progress of my work. I have learned so much from working with him. 

Dr. Savadatti is a thorough teacher. He puts a lot of work into preparing for classes to make sure students get the most out his classes, and he is so approachable. As a teaching assistant, I have looked up to him for advice; he has always been willing to help me become a better teacher.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

It’s been almost five years since I last saw my mom, so definitely my mom — but if this wasn’t the case, I would probably say Malcolm Gladwell. I have read most of his books and I find his ideas thought provoking. And his art of storytelling, oh! Don’t even get me started! He certainly makes me want to write.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

Woo … the wish list is long, but top of my list: resolve conflict in war-torn countries; make sure every person has equal opportunities despite gender, race, nationality and more, which often creates disparity; cure all diseases; build a digital brain as intelligent as a human brain or even better just for fun and use it to run robots — I would program it to never harm humans, of course.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… pay school fees/tuition for every child who can’t afford an education but would like to go to school, build facilities to provide clean water to people who lack clean water, and start programs to empower people living in poverty. Finally, I would start a research institute/company to build state-of-the-art intelligent devices for biomedical applications.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

Sharing knowledge, building devices and alleviating poverty. Throughout my educational training, I have been involved in building several machines and devices. I have also had some teaching opportunities. With this background, I hope to eventually pursue positions in academia or research where I can continue to teach while building all sorts of things with much more independence. During my breaks, I also hope to travel around the world and work on projects to help people in living in poverty.

After graduation, I plan to…

… take either a teaching or a research position.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… kindness. My success in school and involvement in sports, music, dancing and local community activities has been made possible by people’s kindness. All the professors and peers I have been fortunate to work with both in school and extracurricular activities have been eager to teach me and are always patient with me. As an international student, I think it would have been harder for me “to find my groove” if it weren’t people who have been kind enough to help me with the little things.

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