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Headshot of Nylan Alexander

Alexander Graduates with Multiple Skills, Bright Future

Nylan Alexander took a job at the Min H. and Yu-Fan Kao Innovation and Collaboration Studio (ICS) during his junior year without knowing much about how to operate any of the machines. Tom Duong, the academic support specialist for ICS, suggested Alexander could expedite his learning process if he stayed on campus to work at ICS during the summer.

“Not only did he get up to speed, he went above and beyond,” Duong said. “He created new standard operating procedures for other students and became one of the best leaders I’ve ever had. His initiative, motivation, and work ethic are bar none.”

Alexander is graduating from the Tickle College of Engineering on Friday night with a degree in biomedical engineering. The senior from Gallatin, Tennesseee, squeezed in as many experiences as possible into his three years at UT.

Alexander performed undergraduate research with Professor Xiaopeng Zhao that involved AI robotics to solve issues with Alzheimer’s-related dementia. Alexander modeled the body for a robot named FRED (Friendly Robot to Ease Dementia), and developed software to accompany the project.

As a sophomore, Alexander spent a semester studying abroad in South France, where he participated in a genetics lab. He learned to speak French and took advantage of opportunities to better understand the culture.

“Activity is what really motivates me,” Alexander said. “I get really, really bored if I’m just sitting doing homework constantly. I want to do something where I can at least apply some practical knowledge to solve problems.”

Alexander comes from an athletic family with a strong educational foundation. His father, Brent, played in the NFL for 11 years before becoming a high school math teacher. His mother, Mari, is the associate vice president for student health and well-being at the University of South Carolina.

Alexander’s brother, Corey (BS ‘12), brother was a member of the UT football and track and field teams. His sister, Nalyss, a Spellman graduate, was a trainer for the Morehouse football team.

Alexander played football at Butler University as a first-year student before deciding to focus on his engineering studies and transferring to UT.

“UT has a great reputation for engineering, and I am really glad I came here,” Alexander said. “I really wanted to get experience with a lot of different things, so I intentionally made my schedule to include mechanical classes and a bit of aerospace. I feel like I got a very well-rounded engineering education here.”

Alexander was part of an interdisciplinary senior design team that developed an app associated with FRED to help Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

“Nylan is very disciplined and gets along really well with his teammates. They always have great things to say about him in their performance evaluations,” said Edwards Assistant Dean and Director of Integrated Engineering Design Keith Stanfill. “He has this calming influence and isn’t one to gripe about any work. Nylan just gets things done.”

Alexander’s role in the ICS grew through his own initiative. The student-managed makerspace is located on the first floor of the Zeanah Engineering Complex. Students have access to 3D printing, woodworking, and laser cutting to get hands-on experience in manufacturing.

Alexander learned how to operate many of the machines by watching YouTube videos, reading books, and his own trial and error. By his final year, he was promoted to student supervisor of the machine shop. He managed student projects, designed unique solutions to engineering problems, taught operations and maintenance of equipment, and developed safety protocol.

During the lead up to the Senior Design Showcase, Alexander stayed late and worked the weekend in KICS to help teams complete their projects.

“He always has a positive attitude. Even if things go wrong, he remains calm and tries to figure out how to fix it,” Duong said. “He finds solutions as opposed to pointing out the shortfalls. I really look forward to seeing him grow up, because he has a special ability to get stuff done and then help everyone around him.”

The addition skills Alexander developed in ICS stood out to a pacemaker company during a recent job interview.

“A lot of what they needed in that position is not just the critical thinking of somebody like an engineer, but also the hands-on experience and the hands-on capabilities to learn in the role because you have to adapt to a lot of different things and be able to think on your feet fast,” Alexander said. “It’s been really great to show those employers that I’ve been in a similar position and can get projects done.”

Alexander is expecting to have a large contingent of family at the TCE graduation ceremony. As he walks across the stage to receive his diploma, he’ll do so with the confidence to handle any future challenges he may face.

“UT has given me determination,” Alexander said. “Something that I and a lot of students’ experience is feeling like you don’t belong in a university or in a major if you don’t fully succeed. But UT does a really good job of letting students fail, learn from it, and come back. Just because you fail once doesn’t mean you will fail later. You can always overcome whatever obstacles are in your way.”


Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683,