“I was drawn to leadership after I got a black belt in Tae Kwon Do,” says Matt Rodriguez, who learned “to take action to make things happen. You can’t just sit on the sidelines.”

Rodriguez now participates in the Bernard M. Gordon MIT Engineering Leadership Program, an MIT educational initiative that combines leadership development with the rigor of an MIT education. The program, which aims to transform engineering leadership in the country, is designed to help MIT undergraduates to develop not only the skills — but also the character — to become future engineering leaders.

Rodriguez says he was inspired to be of good character by his father, vice principal of an urban school. “He seemed always to know the right action and stuck to his principles, no matter what. I’ve learned in this program that integrity is key. Without it, no one can respect you as the leader.”

Through weekly engineering leadership labs, projects, and classes, students chosen for the program learn to work in groups and take leadership roles. They also participate in internships and are matched with industry mentors.

“Sometimes, sitting in a classroom just listening, my eyes glaze over, but this program’s hands-on approach is fantastic. When you actually experience something and practice it, you really internalize it,” says this senior, who has held countless leadership roles in school and the community. “I love being a leader. It boils down to I really want to help society progress towards a better life.”