You Can Be What You Can't See
The reason Diversity In STEM is so important is because I think about how far I came with no Black Engineering or Women Engineering role models. Even today, I can only name maybe ten high profile Black women engineering role models, let me try: Ayanna Howard, Mae Jemison, Gilda Barabino, Kimberly Bryant, Jeanette Epps, Mary Jackson, Aprille J. Ericsson-Jackson, Ursula Burns, Christine Darden, Yvonne Clark, and Paula Hammond. Whoo hoo! I made ten, eleven actually.
Now I definitely could name more if I named more of my contemporaries but that is a blog post for another day.
Now just imagine if I had seen 5 of me as a student. I could have reached even higher heights. I probably would not have gotten such a late start (PhD at 33). This is why I push so hard to #AmplifyBlackSTEM, #PromoteBlackSTEM, #NormalizeBlackSTEM. It is because it is really hard to be what you cannot see. It is not impossible but it is hard. Also, there are so few of us that we are spread thin trying to do our job, research, teaching, professional development and service. If we can build community and critical mass then there would be more of us to be advocates, mentors and role models. This is why the work of #BlackInEngineering, #BlackInRobotics, #BlackInComputing, and #BlackInX is so important. We won't be done until, there are so many Black and Brown people in engineering that it is no longer an anomaly to see us. We are done when we are no longer considered "underrepresented", historically excluded, marginalized or minoritized.
I chose to become an engineering professor as an engineering student with a 2.5 GPA. This is because I wanted the profession to look like the world. I wanted engineering to look, fun, engaging, personable, people centered and exciting because it is. I took the lemons of my engineering school experience and chose to make lemonade. The saying that your attitude will affect your altitude, is so true. There were several decision points in my life where I could have gone either direction. This was one of about five of them. I will save the others for another blog post. If I really knew then how hard this journey would be, that naïve 22 year old may have chosen another direction.
There is a MLK quote that says, "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase". This is what I did, I stepped out on faith.