Conversation condensed and edited by
Mary Architzel Westbrook
Engineers solve problems. That’s what we do. As dean, I still get to roll up my sleeves and solve problems – they’re just problems of a different kind.
For instance, we recently launched a bridge program for incoming freshmen who need some extra help getting up to speed in math. We’re adding a maker’s space to the college soon – a place for students to conceptualize, design and develop products.
These are best practices that other engineering schools have utilized to improve student success. Implementing them at ODU requires that I have the pulse of what’s happening in education and engineering.
I was born in Norfolk and actually attended kindergarten at the Child Development Lab at ODU. Both my parents earned Ph.D.s, my mother at the age of 51.
I never felt pressure to go into academia, but there was always the expectation that I would go to college and get an advanced degree – at least at the master’s level.
When I started teaching, at the University of Nebraska, I set a goal for myself to become an associate dean for academic affairs. I liked that I would be working closely with students, making them aware of engineering. I kept my head down and focused my efforts on building a successful research program. I achieved that goal and then set the next, and the next.
As a black woman and full professor in engineering, I represent less than 1 percent of all faculty in engineering in the United States.
As a community, as a society, we have to talk about that, even if there’s a subset of people who don’t want to talk about it.
Fifteen years ago, I was untenured faculty just trying to build a research program – I didn’t want to talk about being black or being female, either. But the truth is it matters. The next generation needs to see people who look like them succeeding in all fields.
I was raised to believe there were no limitations to what I could do. I want to communicate that same message to students today.