Set to graduate this spring, Illinois CS student Elias Hadgu thinks back on the growth he’s displayed academically and as president of NSBE after being named one of 11 new students to the Knights of St. Patrick by The Grainger College of Engineering.
As he prepares for graduation this spring, there might not be a better way to punctuate undergraduate Illinois Computer Science major Elias Hadgu’s academic career than becoming a new member of the Knights of St. Patrick.
The Grainger College of Engineering selected 11 students for this acknowledgment, which recognizes them for their demonstrated leadership, excellence in character, and outstanding contribution to the college.
Hadgu was proud to be one of the 11.
“I can remember when I was interviewing with the Knights of St. Patrick, they asked what this recognition meant to me,” he said. “It might be a cliché answer, but this recognizes what I’ve done over my time here as of benefit to the university.
“I don’t necessarily need an award or an acknowledgment like this to know what I did was meaningful, but it does make you feel good to earn it.”
Hadgu's time as a CS student began with a patient approach to classes. He continued to take lower-level courses even when he might have tested out of them.
This not only gave him a well-rounded CS experience, but it also gave him the confidence in his academic work to begin finding extracurricular activities that mattered to him.
“I was familiar with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign because I went to high school in the state, and I competed in the Science Olympiad – which brought me here for competitions,” Hadgu said. “Still, when I first came here as a college student, I noticed there was this early movement program, which brought me to campus two or three days before my first year actually started.
“I got acclimated again with campus, met a lot of people, and, through my mentor, also learned about NSBE.”
The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at UIUC, has now become a years’ long dedication for Hadgu.
Even when students struggled to connect and collaborate during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hadgu has played an important role with NSBE.
He has appreciated the opportunity, and his efforts earned him the organization’s presidency this year. Hadgu has also really enjoyed getting back to in-person events over the past year and a half.
“There were some low moments during the pandemic, when sometimes we wouldn’t even get a single person to join an online event,” Hadgu said. “But we stuck with it, and we made NSBE different because of it. The organization used to be much more formal and professionally driven. We have made it a little more social and about family.
“I can remember soon after the in-person events started back up again, and we had 30 people show up to an event. I thought I might not have seen so many students in one place at an event during my time in college up to that point.”
As he grew his leadership role in NSBE, Hadgu also learned the value of helping others.
“One of my favorite moments as president stems from emails companies send to me, looking for possible hires,” he said. “I heard from someone at Apple who was looking for a Mechanical Engineering student, and I knew someone who I thought would be perfect for the internship.
“When I found out she got it, I was so excited. That was really fun to know she actually got it, and that I might’ve helped a little bit.”
While a student with Illinois CS, Hadgu has come to understand how to handle the major while learning to grow purposefully.
He said that coding has become a strength of his, considering how much he practices it in his courses. But he has also learned how to apply the technical improvements, which is why he fell in love with computing to begin with.
From the moment he was young and his family gave him a Lighting McQueen toy that he could program to drive certain directions – which he typically steered right into his sister – Hadgu enjoyed the way computing helps you create something new.
Now, he has thrived in game design and computational photography courses.
His skills led to internships with State Farm, in Research Park, and MasterCard – where he recently took a return offer to begin working with the company full-time after graduation.
From the beginning of his experience at Illinois CS to being named to the Knights of St. Patrick, the entire path has been a rewarding one for Hadgu.
“One thing that is really meaningful about becoming a member of the Knights of St. Patrick is that you’re interviewed by past Knights. It’s a community thing, and the Knights know exactly what it’s like to be a student here,” he said. “The real prize for me, when I think back on everything I accomplished over the years, is what I did to get here.
“If I told my freshman self what I’ve experienced, I would feel impressed – like, ‘Oh, wow, I did all that!’