In celebration of Black History Month, SWE will be highlighting African American women engineers and entrepreneurs in a series of blog posts.
Meet and learn more about two SWEsters in the African American Affinity Group: Rose-Margaret Itua, Ph.D (Professor of Engineering at Ohlone College) and Elizabeth D. Rivera (Retired Sgt. for the United States Armed Forces and undergrad student at University of Arkansas Little Rock).
Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua, Ph.D. // Professor of Engineering at Ohlone College
Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua is a Professor of Engineering at Ohlone College, with over 15 years of experience in Higher Education. Before moving to the US, she was the Chair of the Engineering Department, Distinguished and Senior Lecturer at the University of West London, London, UK. She holds a B.Eng. (Hons) in Electrical/Electronic Engineering, from the Federal University of Technology Owerri, Nigeria, an MSc. in Mobile and Satellite Communication Engineering from the University of Surrey, Guildford, UK and a Ph.D. in Cybernetics from the University of Reading, UK. She is the current President of the Society of Women Engineers(SWE) Mount Diablo Chapter, California, and a Director of the Silicon Valley Engineering Council. She is also the first and founding Lead for the Society for Women Engineers (SWE) African-American Affinity Group.
Tell us about your background: Where are you from, and what attracted you to the world of engineering or STEM?
I live in the Bay Area in California and was attracted to engineering and in particular Telecommunications Engineering because I fell in love with Electromagnetic Wave-forms during a Physics class in High School. I wanted to learn how to design devices that could manipulate electromagnetic waveform for the good of humanity. I was also drawn to Engineering because it sets no limits on creativity and it would afford me the opportunity to create positive social change.
Did you have any mentors or role models who helped shape your educational and/or professional path?
My Mum was my greatest role model. She was a Biology Teacher turned Politician and was an advocate for Women in STEM, she opened my eyes to the beauty of science and math. I have also been fortunate to have some really amazing mentors and coaches and some of the white-male mentors, coaches and allies. I would like to give a shout out to all my male mentors, coaches and allies- Dr. Mike Holtzclaw, Prof. Jeff O’Connell, Dr. Amelito Enriquez. I hope that this shout out encourages male professionals to support, mentor, coach and partner with women in STEM especially women of color in STEM.
What has been your personal experience as a double minority (black and female) in a male-dominated industry? What surprises (good and bad) have you encountered?
It has both positive and challenging aspects. The positive aspect is that I get to pave the way for future girls and women that want to pursue Engineering or a STEM Career and that I am part of a profession that advances humanity through technology. The challenging aspect is the acceptance of women in engineering and especially women of color.
What advice would you offer to girls or young women who are interested in STEM but doubt their capabilities or potential?
“Believe in yourself and know that you belong in Engineering/STEM just like any other person!”
“You get to Impact the world positively through Engineering, don’t let anyone/thing stop you from pursuing your Engineering Dream!”
Elizabeth D. Rivera // Undergrad student at University of Arkansas Little Rock
Growing up in San Antonio Texas for the majority of my childhood is where my attraction to STEM initially began. I can remember as a young child, having big dreams to become an astronaut or engineer for NASA!
In my seventh grade year, I was awarded a certificate of merit for participating in the Twenty-first Talent Search for mathematically and verbally gifted students conducted by Duke University during the months of December 2000 to February 2001. I then went on to complete my first year at the San Antonio Pre-freshman Engineering Program at the University of Texas in San Antonio-Downtown Campus in July of 2001; followed by the completion of PREP II conducted by Our Lady of the Lake University. I graduated from Fox Technical High School’s technology program in May of 2006, shortly after I enlisted as a service member for the United States Army. The start of my career in the armed forces dates back to July 2005 I worked as an Information Technology Specialist where I would later retire as SGT in October of 2013. In recent years, I have completed an Associate of Arts in General Education as well as a certificate of General Studies from the University of Arkansas Morrilton in May of 2017. I am currently attending the University of Arkansas Little Rock in pursuit of my BA of Science in Computer and Electrical Systems Engineering with a minor in Astronomy. Throughout my journey, there have been countless people I’ve learned from and who have inspired me but the most influential would have to be my father James Payton and my mother Lisa Rivera, they support me in all my educational and professional endeavors.
“Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going. Space travel benefits us here on Earth. And we ain’t stopped yet. There’s more exploration to come.” — Nichelle Nichols, former NASA Ambassador
Being that I’m a double minority in a male-dominated field, it has not always been the most positive of my experiences. It has however granted me much-needed insight on how to conduct myself in a professional manner when difficult situations arise. In both professional and educational settings, I’ve found it difficult to connect with like-minded individuals who possess the knowledge and experience and who are willing to take the time to provide sound mentorship. I joined the Society of Women Engineers and it has been surprisingly rewarding for me. The activeness of the women that I have encountered thus far at the collegiate and professional levels has been comforting and very inspirational to continue to break barriers for our peers and our youth.
To any young lady with an interest in STEM, I would encourage and advise them to not allow stigmas or the conversation surrounding STEM being male-dominated make you feel inferior, or that it’s not for you because you are female of a different ethnicity. You are just as mentally proficient, and if you’re a girl or young woman with a strong desire to pursue STEM, be courageous and believe that you are capable of doing great things. I want the young women to know with the right amount of hard work and discipline there is nothing in this world you will not be able to pursue and never stop looking for inspiration!