2-minute read

Driving innovation in his homeland of Uganda

Dennis Kibalama dreams of a day when he will see more "Made in Uganda" labels on the products he buys.
Dennis Kibalama at the Center for Automotive Research.

Dennis Kibalama dreams of a day when he will see more "Made in Uganda" labels on the products he buys.

Coming to Ohio State to study engineering wasn't about what he wanted to be.

It was about what he wanted to do.

In his homeland of Uganda, nearly 65 percent of the population lives on $3.10 or less daily. But the nation aspires to become a middle-income economy by 2040: a vision for the future that includes good jobs, quality health services, empowerment through education and a clean environment.

"Every Ugandan has a part to play," Kibalama says. "I saw myself playing a part through automotive engineering — a passion of mine."

Kibalama and his colleagues at Kiira Motors Corp. are building a new automotive industry in Uganda. Started in 2018, the company’s vision of cars and buses fueled by solar power has the potential to create thousands of jobs for Ugandans.

To do his best for his country and Kiira Motors, Kibalama needed to gain a deeper understanding of clean automotive technologies. Ohio State was his top choice because of its winning EcoCAR program at the Center for Automotive Research.

As part of a nationwide competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, students are reengineering a Chevrolet Camaro to reduce its environmental impact without sacrificing the high-performance consumers expect out of a quintessential American muscle car.

The 40 students on Ohio State's EcoCAR team represent a range of majors and gain hands-on experience with engineering, marketing, educational outreach and more. Kibalama was the electric propulsion system lead engineer, contributing to the high-voltage system's design and integration, implementation and testing.

Kibalama celebrated another first-place finish with the EcoCAR team the summer of 2017 before returning home with a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering from Ohio State. He's eager to get to work — to create green vehicles, to pioneer a new future for his country.

"Growing up, my parents instilled in me the value of education — saying you can really change the world with it," Kibalama says. "I am really excited to see something I had a hand in on the road. It gives me great pride and joy that it is actually made in Uganda."

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