The Art of Building


Tomiwa’s time at Illinois has revolved around building—and not just because of his major, Civil Engineering. A second-semester senior just weeks away from graduation, Tomiwa reflects on his Illinois experience and the paths he’s paved for himself and others along the way.

Tomiwa in front of Engineering Hall on the Bardeen Quad

Laying the Foundation

“In 2011, I came to the U.S. for a vacation with my sister. She had finished secondary school—we call it secondary school in Nigeria, equivalent to high school over here. I asked my mom if I could stay. I got enrolled in high school, and from freshman year to senior year I did four years of high school, and then I found myself at U of I.

“I came in as an architectural student and then transferred to civil engineering. I felt fortunate enough to get into the number two program in the nation.”

Building Connections

“I did research with Professor [Arif] Masud and I was able to develop a relationship with him, which is a big thing for me.

“Just like every other undergraduate, I sent an email to like 10 professors—you know, to increase my chances of getting picked—and Professor Masud reached out to me. He gave me that opportunity to work with a faculty member in Siebel. That’s not a chance a lot of people get.

“It was creating slides about additive manufacturing and reading research papers about additive manufacturing, which is a big up-and-coming technology in civil engineering. Professor Masud opened my eyes to that aspect of civil engineering. That was also a chance for me to take the relationship to something more than just a ‘Hello’ or ‘How are you doing?'”

Supporting Others

“As a PCI [Pre-College Initiative] chair, a position I had on campus through NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers], I had the chance to prove to minority students about why engineering at Illinois is the best. I had to organize a list of events from their arrival on Thursday to their departure on Sunday, so I had to keep them busy. Up to 20 kids—that’s a lot of responsibility!

“They would wake up at 8 and grab breakfast from the NSBE office. I would personally take them to class, just so they could see what a class is like in college, an engineering class. Then they’d do some fun things—presentations from professors, experiments, and all that—from Thursday night to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“That kind of thing was a lot of stress, but it was a rewarding experience. I never counted the students who got enrolled or got accepted to U of I—they were high school students back then, so they had other options to go to other schools, and some went to other schools—but the majority of them came to U of I, so that’s something I’m proud of big time.”

Tomiwa (3rd row, second from left) and his fraternity brothers at Phi Kappa Tau’s Chartering Ceremony in 2016

Rebuilding a Fraternity

“I was able to refound a fraternity [Phi Kappa Tau] after it was off campus for more than 12 years—I don’t know, since 1999. And then we refounded it in 2016. Together with a bunch of let me say 12 or 15 guys, we were able to move back in the house. I think that was my sophomore year.

“That was an activity that if I look back, I’m like, ‘What was I thinking?’ But I’m glad that I went through it. I was able to form good relationships with a diverse crowd. Looking back, I’ll tell someone, ‘Yeah, I was in a fraternity.'”

Future Projects

“I’d like to go on to get a masters. I applied to two graduate schools—UC Berkley and U of I. I got accepted to UC Berkley and am waiting for my application status from U of I. Both are very good schools.

“After getting my masters, I’d like to go on to work for a couple years—maybe four or five years—then come back and get my MBA. And then I have a plan in mind of going back to Nigeria and developing the infrastructure there.

“Everyone’s story is unique to where they’ve come from and where they’re going. U of I is four years, and it has a very big impact for people that want to take advantage of it.”