“It’s kind of like…a big shock on the first day, walking, you know, into a lecture and only seeing 3 other black kids in a class of like 120.”
When did you become interested in engineering?
I noticed in high school, even in middle school. I took like the basic technology classes; I always liked math and science. I had other interests; I liked history but I could never see myself pursuing that in college. But, I always liked math and science; it was something I was good at too. It was very concrete to me. Both of my parents are engineers, too, and I didn’t want to be an engineer because they were. I think originally I wanted to be, like, a surgeon, and then I changed that to a chef, or whatever, but I definitely didn’t want to do the same thing as my parents. I actually purposefully moved away from engineering. My parents would hint at it, but I'd say, “No, that’s not something I want to do." But as I went through high school, I noticed that my AP classes were more math and science based, and I kind of strayed away from English. I noticed that I didn’t like English very much. So, I figured, you know, engineering would be the best option for me. Also, for the opportunities associated with it.
Have you faced any occurrences of other students or staff assuming that you are not an engineer based on your appearance?
Oh, that’s definitely happened. I would be like “I have to go work on my EGR lab,” and people would be like—I get this almost every day—“Oh, you’re in Pratt?” I don’t know if that’s specifically related to me being a female and being African American, but I know I get a lot of surprises from people of all races. It’s not just white people; it’s everyone. That’s to be expected because, you know, there’s not that many African Americans [in Pratt]. At Duke, though, I think [Pratt] is like 33% female. Duke has one of the highest rates for female engineers in the country. But, I’ve definitely gotten people kind of shocked that I was an engineer, like they just assumed I wasn’t. Whereas, most people, you’d have to ask; people don’t just assume that stuff. But, for me, people just kind of assumed that I was in Trinity. But, like I said, people from all kinds of demographics and backgrounds just assumed that.
What challenges have you faced being a black female engineer?
I guess the biggest thing is the fact that female and African American students are so underrepresented in engineering. I noticed that Duke has the same amount of African American students as my high school did, but obviously African Americans are very underrepresented in engineering so it’s kind of like, I guess like a big shock on the first day, walking, you know, into a lecture and only seeing 3 other black kids in a class of like 120. So that was like the biggest change, the demographic shift from high school and what I normally see. I wouldn’t say there’s any challenges other than like classes are hard but I feel like with the other African American female engineers, we have like a close bond just because, you know, there’s not very many of us, so it’s a good support system. And it’s good to have that. Someone to help you out and not be competitive with you.
As we know, engineering is a field predominately consisting of white men. Do you have any black and/or female professors?
All of my professors are male. My Writing 101 [professor] is Hispanic. The ones associated with engineering, all of them are white males. But, there is Dean Simmons, she is an African American female; she’s the dean for Biomedical Engineering. She’s one of three deans, and the interesting thing about Duke is that the three academic deans for engineering are all female. One is Hispanic, Dean Simmons is African American, and I think the other one is white. I think that that’s something really unique about Duke, is that the three deans for engineering are all female, so I never really feel uncomfortable going to talk to them. Again, Duke is very welcoming to female engineers, so I never feel like I’m being outcast in any way by the guys.
Who are your black and/or female role models in engineering?
Both of my parents are electrical engineers, so I guess they were kind of my big role models for engineering. Growing up, I didn’t know much about engineering or what they even did, I still don’t really know. Who knows! As I was going through high school, they’re the ones who really introduced me to the field. I guess my mom is a big role model, especially because she was a black female engineer in the ‘80s, and there were even fewer than there are now, although it hasn’t changed that much. I feel like she was the biggest role model for me, because you don’t see black female engineers that much now, but you definitely didn’t see that much in the ‘80s. So, that’s very impressive, I think.