At the UW-Madison College of Engineering’s fifth annual Women in Engineering Celebration on Sept. 13, 2016, Engineering Summer Program alumna Stephanie Adams shared her career journey with about 100 female engineering students and faculty.
In a compelling keynote talk, Adams—who recently became dean of Old Dominion University’s Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology—offered a unique perspective on the support and barriers she has experienced as a woman of color in a predominantly white male field.
She focused on some of the most critical decisions that she made as she navigated her career. Adams said one of the challenges she faced early on was learning to be comfortable in her own skin. “I was the black kid who was too white for black people, and too black for white people,” she says.
Adams said her undergraduate experience at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black university, was pivotal for her future success. “I couldn’t do what I do now, as a woman of color, if I hadn’t figured out how to be comfortable being Stephanie,” she says. “So, for me, I had to have that experience at North Carolina A&T and figure out how to be a black woman in the world.”
Adams also shared some lessons she learned throughout her career. She encouraged female engineering students to dream big, believe in themselves and seize opportunities that will set them up to achieve their goals.
For example, when she was a junior in high school, Adams took the opportunity to attend the UW-Madison Engineering Summer Program, where she spent the summer taking engineering classes while her friends back home were hanging out at the beach. Adams said embracing different opportunities, such as attending the Engineering Summer Program, put her on a path for success in her career.
Coty Weathersby, a chemical engineering junior who attended the event, said Adams’ talk was very moving and thought-provoking.
“Stephanie Adams did not attempt to sugarcoat her struggles and setbacks, but she sought to tell her story authentically,” Weathersby says. “As a woman of color majoring in engineering, many of her comments on how her race and gender affected how she navigated her career path resonated with me. She stressed the importance of owning your identity and learning to love yourself unapologetically.”
Dean Ian Robertson, who introduced Adams, said this year’s event was the largest Women in Engineering Celebration yet, noting that it was the first time the college organized a networking event to bring together all the female faculty and students in the college to build community.
Robertson said that, for the second year in a row, the college’s incoming class of undergraduate women is more than 25 percent—the largest percentage of female undergraduates in college history.
“In the college, we are committed to ongoing efforts to diversify our entire engineering community. That’s very important to our effectiveness as engineers,” Robertson said.
Author: Adam Malecek