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Local designer credits overseas study for position at Tesla

Mikolaj Walczuk earned his BA from UH Mānoa in 2010 with a Japanese major and an art minor, but he got his start at UH Hilo on Hawai‘i Island where his family still lives, and where he participated in the study abroad program. Today, he lives in Reno, Nevada and works for Tesla, Inc.  

What’s the story behind your interesting name?

Mikolaj is a popular name for Polish men. My Mom, a Polish immigrant, wanted to keep her traditions alive when I was born in the States. I was named after Mikolaj Kopernik (Nicholas Copernicus), the astronomer, but everyone calls me Miko. Miko also happens to be a Japanese female name; which was amusing to my friends when I studied abroad in Japan. 

Do you have a favorite memory from UH Hilo’s Study Abroad program?

The amazing advisors made the whole process easy to navigate. I had enriching opportunities throughout the entire program, but I vividly remember the transformation from the very first day stepping foot in a foreign country until the last day leaving the airport in Seoul, Korea. I had so many new and different experiences under my belt that I felt like a different person more capable taking on the world. It also opened my mind to thinking differently about my place in the world, and I was humbled.

How did the Study Abroad experience shape your decisions about what to do after graduation?

I come from an international background, but studying abroad solidified my path to pursue art, design, and language studies.

What would you say to someone considering studying abroad through UH Hilo?

Go for it. It may seem scary at first, because there are so many unknowns, but the experience and the feeling of accomplishment when returning to Hawai‘i is unmeasurable. Ask your future self if you would regret passing up an opportunity to grow and expand your mind. It's worth the time and effort to live in another country, because Hawai‘i will always be here. This moment will not.

What’s it like to work for Tesla, and what do you do there?

I love working for Tesla. It's an extremely progressive company. I am in charge of the look and feel of the Gigafactory—a factory in Nevada where we make Tesla Powerwalls and Powerpacks—through design, branding, and communication programs.

How did your education and experiences prepare you for your career with Tesla?

Just the other day, I drove twelve Panasonic executives from Japan in a Tesla Model 3. They did not speak English, and I was chosen partly because I speak Japanese. I would not have had this amazing experience without studying abroad to learn the language. This is just one professional highlight among many where my studying abroad has come into play.

Studying abroad also helped me explore my art more in-depth. While in Japan and Korea, I showed my photography at galleries and explored other artistic media, skills I also bring to Tesla.

What do you miss most about UH Hilo?

Earlier last year I took a stroll around campus. I miss the exciting energy of making friends and the relaxing atmosphere compared to my life today.

What one word would you use to describe your UH Hilo experience?


University of Hawai‘i Alumni