Elizabeth Hayes (’18) had an unusual but practical philosophy when she entered Christian Brothers University. “I decided that I would keep taking classes until it got too hard or I started to fail,” she recalled. But it never came to that, and she graduated with honors, earning a BS degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in electronics and systems.  

After graduation, Elizabeth joined Fisher Arnold in Memphis, one of the leading engineering, architecture, and consulting firms in the United States. As a planning and analytics project engineer, she works with cooperative and municipal power utilities in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Alabama. “I also publish studies for long- and short-term utility planning, arc-flash hazard assessment, and motor or power generation impacts on a utility system,” she said.

Thanks to Elizabeth’s experience with drones (Unmanned Aerials Systems), she and her team have been able to incorporate drone data into the study process. “In the last year, I have been able to create aerial maps and complete various inspections including solar sites, PV panels, power lines, and utility poles,” she explained. Other departments have utilized her drone expertise for roof inspections and even drone repair. “I am very excited about an upcoming bypass project where I will be utilizing mapping and volumetrics,” she said.

Elizabeth’s interest in engineering goes back to a time when her garage needed power, and she thought she might just be able to build and install a solar panel or a wind turbine. “The more I researched, the more I realized that I had no idea how power generation or electricity worked,” she said. “The more questions I answered, the more questions I had.” Consequently, Elizabeth enrolled in Southwest Tennessee Community College (STCC) and completed the coursework with a 3.94 GPA. “I was not as bad a student as I had previously thought,” she said. 

While at STCC, Elizabeth participated in a Corps of Engineers tour where she met   Dr. L. Yu Lin, CBU Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Dr. Lin suggested that I tour the CBU campus. He warned me not to get discouraged about the tuition, because the University offered numerous scholarships. I really think that meeting is what tipped the scales for me,” she recalled.

As a 30-something student, Elizabeth felt intimidated when she first began her studies at CBU. “The engineering body was full of high-achieving traditional-age students, and at times, I could not imagine being in their academic league,” she said.  “But somehow, I was able to hang with them, if only by sheer will.” 

While pursuing her major, Elizabeth decided to take a drone course from Dr. Eric Welch, Chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “Initially I wanted to take the drone course because it sounded like a fun elective where we would get to play with toys,” she said. However, soon she saw the potential in the course and decided to build a drone as her senior project. “Dr. Welch did a fantastic job of putting practical knowledge and skills into all his classes so students could see the big picture of life after CBU,” she said. “The FAA and FCC licenses give CBU students an edge over the competition, which is great foresight on his part,” she added.

“Elizabeth is extremely talented,” Dr. Welch commented. “As a non-traditional student, she brought a wealth of real-world experience to her classroom and internship activities.”

Now in her spare time, Elizabeth is pursuing a private pilot’s license. “Passing the Part 107 Drone Test gave me confidence to start manned flight lessons,” she said.  “I am about halfway (preparing to solo) in my flight training, and this is directly correlated to the drone course I took at CBU.”

Elizabeth says CBU was a wonderful academic experience. “The course work was challenging, but not impossible. The professors had passion for their subjects and their students’ success. The University prepared me for the workplace with internships and chances to interact with professionals. Overall, I could not have made a better choice in major or university.”