by Nicole Capozziello
Published March 4, 2020
“The quality of the education you get is in your hands,” Jahmil Campbell (BS ‘07, MS ‘10 electrical engineering) regularly tells students, whether it’s in groups or one-on-one. “People are invested in you and want you to succeed, but it’s up to you to plot your own adventure.”
Campbell’s adventure has taken him from Buffalo’s City Honors High School to the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to GE Transportation, where he was recently promoted to engineering manager of the Controls Independent Test and Validation team.
“Jahmil was one of those students who was built for engineering,” says Letitia Thomas, Assistant Dean for Diversity in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who’s known Campbell since he was a freshman student in UB’s Minority Academic Achievement Program (now the Daniel Acker Scholars Program). “He is constantly searching for answers and knowledge–he has always loved to learn and solve problems.”
“I live for the moments when I can honestly say ‘I never would have thought to do it that way,’” says Campbell, who, for as long as he can remember, has thrived on working with people who think differently from him. And, on GE Transportation’s Independent Test and Validation team, this philosophy isn’t just helpful–it’s essential.
“In the realm of quality assurance, diversity is one of our greatest strengths,” says Campbell of his team of 30, about 16 of whom are permanent employees.
Formed in 2016, Campbell’s team is comprised of engineers from different backgrounds, from computer scientists to biomedical engineers to electrical engineers like Campbell. They are responsible for ensuring that customer deliverables, like a Tier 4 Locomotive or a locomotive feature like an Automatic Engine Start Stop, meet Wabtec standards of safety and performance. (GE Transportation recently became a part of Wabtec, a global supplier of critical components, locomotives, series, signaling and logistics systems and services to the rail industry.)
“A diverse team affords us the opportunity to approach challenges in different ways. This ability to collaborate and provide unique solutions is what sets us apart in the transportation industry,” says Campbell. “I believe that being introduced to a new viewpoint also makes me a better engineer as I can approach challenges in new and exciting ways.”
This propensity was nurtured early in his academic career, when Campbell, like all first-year engineering students, took EAS 140, now called EAS 199: Engineering Principles. This foundational class teaches students to “think like an engineer” by exposing them to a range of real-world problems across engineering disciplines.
His professor, Jennifer Zirnheld, Maxwell Technologies Inc. Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Director of UB’s Energy Systems Integration (ESI) lab, focused one of the course’s final projects on power systems. This particular project, to design a power plant and route the transmission with a specific load, sparked Campbell’s curiosity, and ultimately led to years of research in Zirnheld’s lab.
“Jahmil is one of the smartest people I have had the pleasure of calling my student,” says Zirnheld. “I am always amazed by how quickly he is able to process the details of whatever we are working on, think clearly, outside of the box and develop unique perspectives for discussion."
Over the years, Campbell has had opportunities to work on various projects and research initiatives, from exploding film or wire research, which makes it feasible for shockwaves to do things like fracture ice and cause current interruptions in pulse power systems, to investigating the use of non-thermal plasma to treat melanoma cells.
“Working with Dr. Zirnheld in the Energy Systems Integration lab was life-changing,” says Campbell. “She nurtured my love of research and fostered a sense of responsibility within me. She also instilled the importance of teamwork and supporting each other among the many different academic researchers collaborating in the lab. Her selfless nature, friendship and personal sacrifice to empower and give her students a better future continue to have a profound effect on my life to this day.”
When Campbell went on the job market after finishing his master’s at UB in 2010, potential employers were impressed by his extensive research experience, which started early as an undergrad. His participation in on-campus organizations and leadership programs also gave Campbell the skills to speak to his strengths and experience–and understand how they fit in to what employers are seeking.
“CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program) and LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) in particular were two programs that introduced me to a community of peers and mentors that I still leverage today,” says Campbell. “They provided an opportunity to build connections with alumni and learn from them, bridging the gap between academia and Industry.”
Today, Campbell loves paying forward these gifts to current students. While he lives in Erie, Pa., he still gives back to the UB whenever possible, speaking on campus and mentoring students. As a member of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Young Alumni Board, Campbell uses his experiences and connections in industry to help prepare students for success in their careers. He also recruits alumni to come in and speak at orientation and in EAS 199.
For Campbell it’s about much more than professional development. “It sounds cliché but I get to connect with students who are sitting in the same seat I was sitting in, and I can speak from experience to the same thoughts of self-doubt,” says Campbell.
“’Failure is normal,’ I tell them. And you will learn so much by not always getting it right the first time.”