In 2011, I became the first African-American female professor to earn tenure in the College of Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Prior to becoming a faculty member at the institution, I did not realize that I would be a pioneer. After all, I am:
- An only child of parents who grew up in the Jim Crow South
- A graduate of a Historically Black College (Spelman College)
- A mathematician
- An engineer
- An entrepreneur
Put this package into a faculty position in a male-dominated field, and fireworks are sure to fly! Prepared to Be a Pioneer® grew from my experiences in this, my first full-time job.
In the last 11 years, I’ve graduated 10 Ph.D. students, published approximately 100 publications, garnered over $11 million in research funding, and earned a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). In January 2016, I was hired as the inaugural Department Chair of the new Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University.
My academic journey has not always been easy. When new experiences occurred (e.g, people confusing me with the only other black female engineering professor in a faculty meeting or people mistaking me for the black female custodian in my building) I did not know what to do.
I wanted to talk to someone about whether I was being oversensitive, whether I should provide teachable moments, or whether I should just ignore the comments. Over time, the professional demands of my academic job, coupled with these little incidents, started to affect my mental and physical health. My husband even said that he felt that he was sometimes married to my job and to my colleagues instead of to me. Although I’ve been extremely successful (www.i2e2a.org), this success has not come without many tears and some frustration.
After earning tenure, I vowed to serve as a mentor and a consultant to others who were thinking about entering an environment where they would be the first or the only. Rarely does one enter a profession with a toolkit for being successful professionally and personally, particularly as an underrepresented minority. I want to help change that.
In 2013, I started my own business (STEMinent LLC), created an animated STEM YouTube series (Quirky Time), entered the fashion business, and obtained a contract to write a book about the demystification of the engineering Ph.D. (This is just the tip of the iceberg for me!) I’ve enhanced my social media and overall web presence as well.
My heart’s desire is to share the lessons that I have learned. Already, I have spoken to thousands of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty who want it all – family, professional success, good health, happiness, and peace.
Prepared to Be a Pioneer® is the brand that represents my vision and purpose most vividly. Since childhood, my goal has been to help people to fulfill their destinies. Thank you for joining me on an incredible journey where we all can be the pioneers that we were meant to be.