Black History Month: Highlighting African American Engineers, Pt. 2

Meet and learn more about three SWEsters in the SWE's African American Affinity Group: Charity Asuquo Ikpe, Morgan Arline, and Brittany Burnett.

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 three SWEsters in the African American Affinity Group: Charity Asuquo Ikpe, Morgan Arline, and Brittany Burnett.

 


Charity Asuquo IkpeCharity_African American Affinity Group

Tell us about your background: Where are you from?

I was born in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria and migrated with my parents along with 2 siblings to Washington, DC at the age of 6.  My parents came to further their education as Master’s students. I have both a Bachelors and Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland College Park. I worked at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) as a Satellite Systems Engineer.  I supported the Space Shuttle Discovery launch on the historic Return to Flight mission, STS-114. Then worked 5 years as a thermal structural engineer on James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

After 10 years at GSFC, I moved to Chicago and decided to take a 6 year career break and raise my 2 children.  As a stay at home mom, I got involved in my children’s school PTA and later become a part-time technology teacher.  There I learned that most of the young girls were not really interested in STEM, which moved me to start Engineers In Heels organization in 2017. I re-entered my career 2 years ago as an F/A-18 Structures Engineer at The Boeing Company in St. Louis, through Boeing’s first time program, “Return Flight.” A program designed for engineers who took a career break and seeking to return.  I am currently on Boeing enterprise Racial Equity Task Force, helping to shape the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.  Also I recently got promoted to a Project Manager role.

My children and husband all play two musical instrument each, so for fun, I love to play the flute and sing with them.  I also love baking and decorating beautiful fondant cakes.

What attracted you to the world of engineering/STEM?

As a little girl, I was always intrigued by planes and enjoyed taking apart my brother’s toys apart and “trying” to rebuild them.

What does being from the African Diaspora or an ally mean to you?

As an African diaspora, I understand why my parents moved us here to pursue our education.  It is my responsibility to give back, stay connected and contribute to educating my community right there in Nigeria.

How have you navigated your career as a woman of color?

While in Nigeria, I didn’t know that Black people were considered minorities anywhere.  After coming to USA and learning racism toward Black people and gender discrimination toward women, I had to resolve within myself to overcome the barriers that are set to hold me back.  I have my faith in God and my positive outlook in life that helps me channel negativity into strength and turn some of those moments into teachable moments.  I don’t shy away from shinning a light in situations that might make others uncomfortable.

I had great mentors, starting from my parents and my great allies throughout my life that I can reach back for support.

Have you experienced any challenges or discrimination because of your race or gender? How have you surmounted them?

No one has outwardly acted ill toward me because I am Black and a woman.  However, in college I had a group of white male students (about 7 of them) in my Aerospace undergraduate classes that outwardly mocked me because I was African and it went on for about a semester.  It made me very uncomfortable to come to class and to ask questions.  But I let it ride out and put on a “big girl face” and went to class.  I didn’t have the boldness then to speak out, but I got a job offer before graduation while those students graduated with no jobs and were forced to stay in school for another degree.  After overcoming that incident, I became an advocate for myself and others.

Provide some positive experiences and successes you have accomplished working/schooling through STEM?

My industry is a very exciting one and to top it off, working for NASA exposed me to great assignments.  I deorbit satellites, put space shuttles into orbit, and designed satellites and telescopes. For me the most exciting thing was gaining the knowledge to open a nonprofit STEM organization for underrepresented girls, Engineers In Heel.  In the 6 years that I was home, I got to understand that if you don’t build a pipeline from kindergarten and establish the love for STEM early, few girls will major in a STEM field.  In 2018, Engineers In Heels ran a winter coding camp with only 12 students but in 3 months, two school districts were promoting our camps and putting flyers in every students backpacks.  In summer 2018, I took my two children to Nigeria for the first time and run a 3 week STEM camp in Akwa, Ibom.  We came back and raise funds to donate school table and chairs for over 155 students.  We continue this work and hope to exposed, educate and equip young girls to STEM career.

What advice would you offer to girls or young women who are interested in STEM?

Nothing good comes easy, don’t let anything get in the way of your goals and don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t. Even if you don’t see a story similar to yours, just go for it because you can be that story for someone else.

Did you have any mentors or role models who helped paved the way and/or shaped your educational/professional career path?

Yes, my first mentors were my parents, my mom pushed me to be comfortable in my skin as a Black African woman, that there is no limitations in what I can do and that God used both men and women equally.  My father taught me persistence, boldness and good work ethics.  My AE undergraduate advisor who is now the president of the University of Maryland, Dr. Darryll Pines, 16 years letter he is still mentoring me. I later had a co-worker who took a break off her career working at NASA and returned years later into my team…she mentored me as I became a stay at home mom.  When I resumed my career, to be honest I was lost and pretty nervous how I will catch up and learn the material fast enough. I had Boeing executives rally around me and gave me the support, mentorship and some even became my sponsors when opportunity opened up.  This really helped me to rebuild confidence in my work and in my education.  I had to overcome imposter syndrome and working on those hard tasks and meeting my datelines also help build my confidence.

How can we prepare for opportunities and advocate for ourselves as women of color in the workplace?

Go to school and get involve with professional societies… such as SWE and your specific degree professional chapter.  Have a positive attitude or outlook toward life, ask questions and seek for understanding.  Know your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with those who can build you. Don’t be afraid to talk about your goals and ambitions.  To be an advocate for ourselves and others, we first have to learn to appreciate one another as females.  Then we will get to be each other’s cheerleaders even when we both go for the same position.  In the dog eat dog world, everybody is out for themselves, but if we realize that uplifting someone else doesn’t mean lowering yourself, we will be able to pull more women in and level the playing field.  Share information with each other.  Speak up and be a mentor or sponsor for other women.

You are involved in ERGs, professional associations and other D&I forums in the community. Why is that important to you and why should everyone be involved in championing inclusion?

I do what I do because I want another little black girl to see themselves in my position or greater.  I share my story because someone in the audience can relate or needed to hear, “you can do it.” Any parents out there who were never exposed to STEM education, can reach out to me and ask me questions that will help them give better direction and guidance to their child.  I reach back because I don’t want to get to the top and have no one to share the victory with.


Morgan Arline 

Morgan_African American Affinity Group

Tell us about your background: Where are you from?

I graduated from Tuskegee University in May 2014 with my Bachelor of Science (BS) in Electrical Engineering. After graduation, I was accepted into the Boeing Engineering Career Foundation Program, a two-year engineering rotation program for high performing leaders in Puget Sound. Once I completed the program, I relocated to Boeing Oklahoma City as an Electromagnetic Effects engineer. This past October, I was promoted to the Vice President of Aircraft Modernization and Modification (AMM) Executive Assistant.

My hobbies include volunteering with local organizations, reading, traveling. I am at peace when I am around my family or my good friends.

What attracted you to the world of engineering/STEM?

I’ve always had a love for math and science growing up. Those were my favorite subjects throughout my school years. I’ve always had curiosity in what makes those things tick and I wanted to find out. I initially wanted to be a mechanical engineer but after my first electrical engineering class, I switched my majors.

What does being from the African Diaspora or an ally mean to you?

I love the culture. I love the diversity amongst us. I love the family aspect. I love that pride I get from saying, “I am African American.” I love that I was able to attend a Historically Black College/University, created for us.

How have you navigated your career as a woman of color?

Mentorship has been key in my career. I’ve always had a woman mentor throughout my various job roles who helped me navigate the industry as a woman.  It is the first thing I do when starting the new role is to identify a mentor. I do seek out woman of color mentors first but in the aerospace industry, it’s sometimes met with challenges. I have been lucky to have had two women of color mentors who helped me get to this current job role.

Have you experienced any challenges or discrimination because of your race or gender? How have you surmounted them?

I will say that I think I am lucky, unfortunately, to never have received any challenges or discrimination because of my race or gender. I have received the comments and stares when I enter the room. But I treat everyone as I would like to be treated and I make sure the work I put out is one that I am proud of and can stand by. I make sure I think before I speak and speak on what I know and speak with confidence. I use the comments and stares as fire to excel.

Provide some positive experiences and successes you have accomplished working/schooling through STEM?

Any volunteer opportunity I have a pleasure of being a part of is so positive and uplifting. I enjoy the panels speaking on my experience and giving advice as a woman in STEM because of the smiles these women have hearing from someone who looks just like them. I always leave full of hope that I was able to inspire at least one of the women.  I am also proud to stand the local chapter of NSBE back up after falling inactive for a couple of years. It was a missing asset to the community, and I am proud to have brought it back.

What advice would you offer to girls or young women who are interested in STEM?

You have the potential to do anything you want. You want to be an astronaut? Go for it. There are millions of women who will have your back. Don’t be afraid just because one person told you, you can’t do it because there are millions of others that are saying yes you can.

Did you have any mentors or role models who helped paved the way and/or shaped your educational/professional career path?

Yes, as I mentioned above, mentorship is the reason my career has trajected faster than I imagined. Mentors not only provide you with key, tactical advice and steps for your career but can connect you across disciplines, organizations, companies building your network for success.

How can we prepare for opportunities and advocate for ourselves as women of color in the workplace?

Find an ally. An ally that you trust and respect and who knows your work ethic and can vouch for you. An ally will help you find a seat at the table and help you speak up when they know you can shine. Another thing is to sit at the table. Don’t be afraid, when appropriate, to put yourself out in the front. Let folks see you.

You are involved in ERGs, professional associations and other D&I forums in the community. Why is that important to you and why should everyone be involved in championing inclusion?

I’ve learned so much being a part of D&I. I’ve learned not only about the different cultures but what that looks like in the workplace. Diversity only works if everyone is inclusive to it. You must know why something is appropriate for one and inappropriate for the others to ensure you are respectful and inclusive of each other.


Brittany Burnett

Brittany_African American Affinity Group

Tell us about your background: Where are you from?

I am originally from Lithonia, Georgia. I attended school at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. I currently work as a Project Controls Engineer at Bechtel at UPF in Oak Ridge, TN. I love watching sports, playing volleyball, and competing in pageants.

What attracted you to the world of engineering/STEM?

I have always loved learning about science and was good at math. In college, I was really interested in the building construction and design of megaprojects, therefore I chose to pursue a career in Civil Engineering.

What does being from the African Diaspora or an ally mean to you?

Being from the African Diaspora means my ancestor come from more than being enslaved people but possess great gifts. I am empowered to aim for goals they did have the opportunity to achieve. One of my favorite quotes is “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and hope of the slave” (Maya Angelou).

How have you navigated your career as a woman of color?

I choose to surround myself with positive and encouraging people. Additionally, I look up to inspiring leaders such as Thasunda Duckett and Melody Hobson.

Have you experienced any challenges or discrimination because of your race or gender? How have you surmounted them?

I have experienced microaggressions since undergrad. Overtime I have learned that person’s ignorance reflects poorly on them and is meaningless to who I am.

Provide some positive experiences and successes you have accomplished working/schooling through STEM?

Graduating with a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech, the #1 ranked School for Civil Engineering was one of my greatest accomplishments in STEM.

What advice would you offer to girls or young women who are interested in STEM?

My advice is to follow your passion, never fear failure, and always believe in yourself.

Did you have any mentors or role models who helped paved the way and/or shaped your educational/professional career path?

Honestly, I am horrible at establishing formal mentors, but I have had many informal mentors throughout my education & career — whether they know it or not. I have always sought out people that can give me advice no matter how big or small.

How can we prepare for opportunities and advocate for ourselves as women of color in the workplace?

It is important to realize that you are completely enough and qualified. Many women of color struggle with imposter syndrome so it is important to have confidence in yourself.

You are involved in ERGs, professional associations, and other D&I forums in the community. Why is that important to you and why should everyone be involved in championing inclusion?

I am involved to inspire others who are still in school and are exploring career paths. Additionally, it is a great opportunity to meet professionals who inspire me. Others should get involved to learn how they can be inclusive and empower others.


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