How To Be The Change You Seek

Taiwo Ninalowo ’12 remembers the kerosene lanterns, loud diesel generators and sweltering hot nights.

Though her 11-member family in Lagos, Nigeria, inhabited an economic reality better than most — her father owned a car dealership while her mother plied numerous entrepreneurial skills, a seamstress and hairdresser among them — reliable electricity remained elusive. 

The family captured power on a rotating schedule — two days on and one day off — and learned to be in sync with the system. When the power came on, members of the family hustled to complete schoolwork, cook, charge devices and tackle any other electricity-demanding activities. Ninalowo noted how the lack of reliable electricity could impact daily life and even stifle human potential.

Such realities pushed her into the power sector, though an ambitious quest to impact lives would come to extend far beyond any professional pursuits.

 “I wanted to learn not only how to power the world, but how to power lives as well,” said Ninalowo.

At Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), Illinois’ largest electric utility, the mechanical engineer has devoted the last nine years to building a sustainable, modern electrical grid. It’s meaningful, important work that will ensure so much of daily life, from work to schooling to commerce, can continue uninterrupted. It will also help inform a more reliable plan for energy-starved nations like Nigeria.

“When I take a step back and think, ‘I flip a switch and the light comes on.’ Well, somebody committed to electricity and there is light. That’s a privilege, and a privilege that’s not known to people in other parts of the world.”

Beyond her work with ComEd’s asset data quality group, Ninalowo looks to propel others toward richer, more productive lives.

Recently, she served as chair of IEEE PES Women in Power, a global organization creating a movement to promote more diverse leadership in the power industry. She’s currently an active member of the Chicago  chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. Through these efforts, Ninalowo has led organizational programming designed to help other young women break through barriers of entry, unlock new professional opportunities and overturn stereotypes in STEM fields.

“The qualitative factors that women bring to STEM are remarkable, focusing on technical revolutions powered by empathy and a determination to fuel thriving economies,” she said, adding greater STEM diversity will help society address global challenges in a more well-rounded, human-centered way.

Ninalowo’s passion for cultivating personal growth has also prompted extensive volunteer work. She’s educated families in Kenya impacted by HIV, taught English and electricity basics to residents in Peru and helped rebuild two earthquake-ravaged schools in Oaxaca, Mexico. These experiences added to her leadership abilities, as did the MBA she earned from DePaul University in 2019.

With the COVID-19 pandemic halting those globetrotting pursuits, Ninalowo, who is expecting her first child in June, has more recently dedicated time to online crisis counseling.

“When you come from a place where you see how little people have or how other people live and you feel privileged and fortunate to be living in this almost dream world … you want to give back. You want to bring support to the world and ensure that we’re moving forward together as a community.”

Daniel P. Smith