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The 2021-23 Zachry Leadership Program cohort at their annual retreat.
Marco Peredo (third from the right in the back) is a member of the Zachry Leadership Program 2021-23 cohort. | Image: Courtesy of the Zachry Leadership Program

In the fast-paced world of engineering, technical skills are highly valued. However, the Zachry Leadership Program (ZLP) at Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering recognizes the importance of developing well-rounded engineers with both technical expertise and strong leadership abilities. Marco Peredo, a student from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, reflected on the program and its ability to cultivate invaluable interpersonal skills and how he gained a fresh perspective on leadership that extends beyond the boundaries of his field.

Building holistic leaders

The ZLP aims to empower engineers to be holistic leaders who excel in their technical work while also inspiring and motivating others. Peredo describes the program as an opportunity to develop skills that aren't typically emphasized in the classroom. The curriculum of the program focuses on interpersonal skills, team building, conflict resolution and understanding the influence one has on other people. These skills are crucial for successful engineering professionals who often work in diverse teams and face complex challenges. For Peredo, the highlight of the ZLP has been the sense of community it fosters. The strong bonds formed within the program have provided a supportive environment where students uplift and learn from one another. This community aspect has been instrumental in Peredo's personal and professional growth.

“The ZLP is a tight-knit community,” said Peredo. “Every year, 32 students join, and you're with this group for several semesters. Unlike most cases, every semester is different for everyone. In the ZLP, the people that you were sitting with one semester, you'll see them again for the next four semesters. That leads to some great friendships, especially in an environment where everyone is very communicative and is constantly learning about understanding others.”

Translating leadership skills into practice

Peredo’s involvement in the ZLP has significantly impacted his extracurricular activities and academic pursuits. Peredo credits the ZLP for enhancing his managerial skills in some of his latest roles. He emphasized how the program taught him to empathize with others, understand diverse perspectives and navigate conflicts effectively. These leadership skills have been invaluable in helping him create a harmonious and productive team environment.

“Up until recently, I was the AggieSat Laboratory program manager for a little bit over a year and a half. The ZLP really helped me in that role as a manager because it taught me what it was like to really understand where people were coming from and when things were going wrong. The ZLP is very good about teaching you about empathy and understanding the influence you have on people. Those things were really helpful to me in a leadership role in a student organization.”

Looking ahead

While Peredo’s graduation may be a year away, he already has a clear vision for his future. His passion lies in commercial space exploration, and he aspires to contribute to pushing the boundaries of space exploration. As an aerospace engineering student, Peredo is determined to make a difference in the field and play a role in shaping the future of space technology.

“Right now, I have my sights set on commercial space,” says Peredo. “Typically, you'd think of SpaceX when you hear that, but there are many other companies. I’m truly interested in pushing space exploration forward.”

The lasting impact of the ZLP

Reflecting on his experience with the ZLP, Peredo acknowledges how the program has shaped his perspective on leadership. Prior to joining the program, he associated leadership with authority and control. However, the ZLP taught him that leadership is more about influencing others positively, regardless of formal roles or responsibilities. Peredo’s involvement in the program has broadened his horizons, allowing him to explore the people side of engineering. Through his experiences, he discovered a newfound passion for understanding others, resolving conflicts and helping individuals navigate difficult situations.

“I used to enjoy doing projects on my own, but I figured out quickly that I couldn't do everything by myself, and I had to learn how team dynamics work,” said Peredo. “This led me to want to be a better team player, so I applied to the ZLP with that goal in mind — to be better in teamwork and groups. I came into this with a little bit of an unguided version of what leadership is, that it's more of a control and authority. This changed my definition of leadership, and that was very fundamental to me. It also taught me to make sure that I'm always exposing myself to different experiences.“

A first-generation perspective:

As a Hispanic student from the Rio Grande Valley, Peredo noted how transitioning to a diverse university like Texas A&M presented its own challenges. However, the ZLP provided him with a platform to interact with students from various cultures and backgrounds. Through active listening and embracing different perspectives, Peredo developed the skills to bridge cultural gaps and build meaningful relationships. As a first-generation engineering student, he also found support through the First-Generation Mentoring (FGEn) program, which helped him navigate the unique challenges faced by first-generation students.

“It was a culture shock for me, but not in a bad way. It was very different, and being somewhere so diverse is not something I grew up with,” said Peredo. “It was a transition period, and I've had to do a lot of learning, and bluntly speaking, a lot of social learning, like how to make friends and how to interact with different cultures.”

Peredo’s journey through the ZLP has been nothing short of transformative, and he has grown as both a person and an engineering student. The ZLP's emphasis on holistic leadership, community and embracing diversity has empowered Peredo to become a well-rounded engineer.

“It's learning about how to be a good person, and thanks to the ZLP, these are some of the best friends I've ever made in my life. I think what's awesome is that even after graduation, I expect that a lot of us will keep in touch. Seth Sullivan, Maria Polyzoi and Shayla Rivera have handled the program so well.”