Before she came to Rice, senior mechanical engineering major Gigi Rill knew two things: she wanted to study engineering and she wanted to do it in a warm place.
“I looked at 13 different schools, and when I hit Rice, I ranked everything else on a scale of one to Rice,” said the St. Louis native.
Here in Houston, she admits she’s thrived in Rice’s demanding but collaborative environment. During her freshman year, she sought out different clubs where she could pursue both her interests and engineering. But it was her sophomore year that was transformational.
That’s when she learned about the Rice Electric Vehicle (REV) Team. The team designs, tests and builds an electric vehicle to compete in the annual Shell EcoMarathon Americas. This year’s competition takes place in Sonoma, California in April.
“It was a rebuilding year,” she said about the year she signed on. “It felt, in many ways, like we were brand new.”
Rill came onto the team as a mechanical team lead. Today, she’s the group’s president.
“The role of president has changed dramatically over the last couple of years,” said Rill. “It’s no longer as much of a hands-on position. I handle the finances. I look at the big picture, and work with the team leads to help them get the resources they need to complete their tasks. I fill out paperwork for travel or apply for grants.”
Those administrative tasks have helped her grow as a leader, she feels. Rill was always technical, always building something. She was a set director for her high school’s plays and she did building for Rice’s annual Beer Bike competition. Leadership, she discovered, is slightly different from those kinds of activities.
“It’s about learning to delegate, and helping put other people in positions where they can do their best work,” she said. “That’s been a shift for me. We work on a lot of those areas in RCEL, but working on REV lets me put them in to practice.”
Rill says that RCEL gave her the confidence to develop a creative vision for the team’s long-term success. She and fellow REV leaders are encouraging underclassman to take on leadership roles earlier in their participation, to allow for greater institutional memory and mentorship. Rill worked with RCEL’s Cesare Wright to craft a vision statement for REV.
“I really had to think about how we wanted to look at things like outreach and sponsorship, how we reach out to stakeholders,” she said. “We haven’t been very good about documentation, so we’ve consolidated all of our documents, notes and history into one Google drive. It’s become the archive for the team, which is great.”
Rill hopes to work in the aerospace or automotive industry following graduation. She interned at Northrop Grumman the summer before her junior year and last summer was an intern in manufacturing design at Boeing.
While she says she’s grown as a leader thanks to her work with REV and courses in RCEL, she’s also quick to point out that she feels she’s grown personally as well.
“I love the culture here so much,” she said. “You get to meet so many passionate people and they want to share what they do with you. And that changes you. You learn things and you grow.”