Feb 09, 2023 - Atlanta, GA
The history of Black engineers is a story of perseverance and determination in the face of significant obstacles. Despite facing discrimination and segregation, they have made significant contributions to the field. Today, as engineering continues to evolve, Black engineers play a vital role in shaping the future of technology and innovation.
This Black History Month, the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering is celebrating the stories and achievements of some of the School’s Black faculty, students, and advisory board members who are working to make a significant impact in a field that has historically been underrepresented.
Below they share their experiences while at Tech, what drew them to ECE, the challenges they have faced, and what they ultimately hope to see in the future.
Dean of the College of Engineering & Southern Company Chair and ECE Professor
Why did you choose Georgia Tech and how has it served you on your journey to becoming a black engineer?
My first impactful exposure to Georgia Tech was attending the Focus Program in 1997 (Georgia Tech launched the Focus Program in 1991 with the goal of increasing the number of master's and doctoral degrees awarded to students traditionally underrepresented in higher education, not only at Georgia Tech but nationwide). When I was a student at North Carolina A&T, I met A&T’s dean of engineering (Carolyn Myers), a former Georgia Tech faculty member and associate dean. Dr. Myers told me about the program. FOCUS weekend blew me away! Of course, the fantastic resources stood out, but more importantly, the strong presence of Black graduate students and alums won me over. The network I’ve gained as an alum and faculty member at Georgia Tech is priceless. Coming from an HBCU, I had an opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world, and many remain close friends. Georgia Tech didn’t only help me grow technically and professionally; I also grew culturally.
Beyah is a Georgia Tech alumnus. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering Georgia Tech in 1999 and 2003, respectively. He received his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1998. A native Atlantan, he is a graduate of the Atlanta Public Schools system. As a graduate of both Leadership Atlanta and Leadership Georgia, he remains active in the community at state and local levels.
Beyah leads the Communications Assurance and Performance Group and is affiliated with the Institute for Information Security and Privacy. He is co-founder and board chair of Fortiphyd Logic Inc., an industrial cybersecurity company. He is co-founder and a steering committee member of the Academic and Research Leadership Network.
He has previously held several leadership roles at Georgia Tech, including serving as the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering's associate chair for strategic initiatives and innovation, interim Steve W. Chaddick ECE school chair, and vice president for interdisciplinary research. Among other honors, he received the National Science Foundation CAREER award.
Quote that Resonates: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
William H. Robinson
Georgia Tech Research Institute Deputy Director for Research for Information and Cyber Sciences Directorate (ICSD) and ECE Professor
Why did you choose Georgia Tech and how has it served you on your journey to becoming a Black engineer?
I was inspired to choose Georgia Tech after witnessing the example of my cousin, Jonathan Lofton, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech. When I was about 12 years old, I attended Jonathan’s graduation ceremony with my family. During that ceremony, I told my family that I was going to Georgia Tech to become an engineer like Jonathan. I don’t think I knew what engineers did at that time. I probably thought that they drove trains! However, if engineering was a great choice for my cousin, then it would be a great choice for me. I chose Georgia Tech for graduate school to earn my master’s degree and my Ph.D. My cousin connected me with one of his classmates, Dr. Gary May, who became one of my mentors during graduate school and during my academic career. In April 2022, I chose to return to Georgia Tech as a Deputy Director for Research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). I am honored to be part of Georgia Tech’s tremendous legacy of Black engineers.
What are some challenges you faced during your career while occupying spaces traditionally not held by people of color?
In 2010, I was the first African American faculty member to earn promotion with tenure in the history of Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering, and in 2018 I was the first African American faculty member in the School of Engineering to earn promotion to full professor. My lived experience of being the “first” or the “only one” motivates my work to ensure that am not the last and that others will have access. I began a collaboration with Professor Ebony McGee in Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. We co-founded the Explorations in Diversifying Engineering Faculty Initiative (EDEFI) (pronounced “edify”). The mission of EDEFI is to investigate the institutional, technical, social, and cultural factors that affect decision-making, career choices, and career satisfaction for doctoral students, doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty from engineering and computing who have been marginalized by race and/or gender. Professor McGee and I co-edited a book, “Diversifying STEM: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Race and Gender", which was recognized as a 2020 Choice Outstanding Academic Title. The book addresses the tough issues of how to navigate the fields of science, engineering, and computing when you are part of a non-dominant identity group.
What structural, systemic, and historic inequities do you hope to address as a Black engineer in your position?
I sometimes reflect on a book I read entitled, “Race, Rigor, and Selectivity in U.S. Engineering: The History of an Occupational Color Line", by Amy E. Slaton. It uses case studies to show how our policies and frankly our viewpoints have dramatically impacted access to an engineering education. Too often, the conversation steers towards “fixing the student” or a deficit mindset model. Our approach must address the structural barriers to access, both financial and nonfinancial. As leaders, we must set the tone to ensure that we include other voices and perspectives so that people see themselves as part of the engineering community. We must recognize the humanity in each of us and embrace differences with respect. Recently, I began participating with the Deans Advisory Council of the STEM Funders Network and their initiative to ensure diverse representation and equitable access to STEM education and career opportunities.
William H. Robinson, Ph.D., is the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Deputy Director for Research for the Information and Cyber Sciences Directorate (ICSD). He is also a full professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. As ICSD Director, he leads the Information and Communications Laboratory (ICL) and the Cybersecurity, Information Protection, and Hardware Evaluation Research Laboratory (CIPHER), and manages research portfolios that span GTRI.
Before joining GTRI, Robinson served as Professor of Electrical Engineering and the Vice Provost for Academic Advancement at Vanderbilt University. There, he led the Security and Fault Tolerance Research Group, whose mission is to design, model, verify, and implement robust computing systems that positively benefit stakeholders with consumer, defense, industrial, and medical applications. He also co-led the Explorations in Diversifying Engineering Faculty Initiative (EDEFI). That initiative investigates the institutional, technical, social, and cultural factors that affect decision-making, career choices, and career satisfaction for doctoral students, doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty from engineering and computing who have been marginalized by race and/or gender.
Major honors for Robinson include selection for a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program Award and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Computer Science Study Panel, both in 2008. He was selected for Full Membership in Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society, and is a Senior Member of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Robinson is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), a lifetime member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Favorite Quote: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” – Rep. John Lewis
Senior Vice President, Operations Technology at UPS and ECE Advisory Board Member
What do you envision doing strategically to address issues faced by Black engineers and students aspiring to the industry?
I like to join external boards at organizations that can specifically position me in places that allow me to address some of the issues faced by current and prospective underrepresented minority engineers.
The MARCH (Mutual Alliance Restoring Community Hope) Foundation provides a platform that empowers me and other like-minded individuals to invest in funding the degrees of Black students, who might otherwise not have an opportunity to go to college. The Georgia Tech ECE Advisory Board gives me a voice into how minority students are recruited and supported through their college journey. NACME (National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering) helps to continue that support through college and into the work world for underrepresented minority students from around the globe.
I find that people don’t expect to be included based simply on their race. However, they also do not expect to be excluded because of their race. Everyone has a voice and I want to do everything that I can to ensure that all those voices are heard and valued.
Stenson is the Senior Vice President of Operations Technology at UPS. His team plays a pivotal role in integrating UPS’s IT and engineering team to strategically focus on operations, customer solutions, and enterprise needs. Prior to his current role, Stenson was the global president of UPS buildings and systems engineering (BaSE). He began his UPS career in 1994, working in the Buildings and Systems Engineering (BaSE) function, while attending college. He has held a variety of roles of increasing responsibility including Intern, Programmer, Project Manager, Facilities Manager, and Automation Vice President.
Stenson’s team holds global responsibility for UPS’ software and hardware solutions development and integration. His team supports the Research and Development and Engineering Design of UPS’ Material Handling Systems as well as the software required to support UPS’ Airline, Transborder, Final Mile, Automotive, and Network Planning throughout its global data centers and operational facilities.
He currently serves on the boards of the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), and the Mutual Alliance Restoring Community Hope (MARCH) Foundation.
He is a licensed professional engineer and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Favorite Quote: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” - Barack Obama
Joyelle “Joy” Harris
Director of DEI Initiatives in Undergraduate Education and Senior Academic Professional in ECE
What do envision doing strategically to address issues faced by Black engineers and students aspiring to the industry?
There are three things I would do to strategically address issues faced by Black engineers and students who are aspiring to be engineers.
First, I want to set a great example. I don't want to be "the" model, but I want to be "a" model of what it looks like to be successful, thriving, and happy. You don't have to sacrifice one for the other as an engineer. I do believe that it is possible to help people thrive financially, physically, and emotionally, and maintain your mental well-being. So, the very first thing that I strive to do is be an example of what I hope is possible. As I am interacting with my students and other engineers in the field, I can at the very least give from the full cup that I have and that shows it is possible for us to thrive simultaneously while being engineers. You don't have to be like, “I’m defined by only being an engineer.” I think about the people in my life who I've seen model that balance well, and it has been transformative in my life. Seeing them exposed me to what was possible. I want to be that for someone else.
Then, the next thing I want to do strategically is close the equity gaps that exist, especially ones that I have influence over and have the power to inform and change. Within Georgia Tech, that looks like helping to close gaps. Gaps in grades and performance, gaps in four-year graduation rates, and gaps in career outcomes. I want Black students graduating within four years (the same rate as the majority). There are other gaps to consider like getting salaries, internships, research experiences, and study abroad experiences that the majority have better access to. I want to them to be available to our underrepresented students. I want to increase our diversity in every way. I want no equity gaps.
And then lastly, strategically, I just believe by helping one person at a time, you can help a million people. I want to be both for our students and for other engineers in the field because collectively we can do a lot. If everybody I knew gave me a dollar, I might have $1,000,000, so knowing the power we have collectively can do a whole lot. I want to do my part in that collection, just one by one. I want my students and colleagues to know I really am here to serve and to help. I want to be change. I believe that if I put it out there, God will send it back to me. So, if I'm able to give when I need to receive, he will give that to me. If you want to be great, serve more people. The more you know and serve, the greater you can be.
Joy Harris has led a diverse career as an engineer and an educator. Prior to joining the Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech), Harris was a senior packaging engineer at Intel and a Technical Consultant at Exponent Engineering and Scientific Consulting. Currently, she works to make a positive impact within GA Tech in multiple capacities. She serves as Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives in the Office of Undergraduate Education. In this role, she focuses on closing equity gaps, lowering barriers, and increasing access to all opportunities within undergraduate education.
She holds a joint faculty appointment in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), where she serves as a teacher, mentor, and research advisor to undergraduate students. Harris serves as Faculty Director for the Engineering for Social Innovation (ESI) Center, where she creates the space for students to use their technical skills for positive social impact. As ESI director, she leads undergraduate service breaks to developing countries; she operates a graduate leadership and development program; and she helps her students increase the operating capacity of non-profit organizations. Harris formerly served as faculty director of the Global Leadership Living and Learning Community (LLC), where she taught a course in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and she helped first-year LLC students to successfully integrate into the GA Tech community. Harris also served as one of the Associate Directors for the CREATE-X entrepreneurship initiative. In this capacity, she helped students increase their entrepreneurial confidence through designing their own career paths and launching startups. Through all her roles on campus, Harris enjoys teaching and serving thousands of students throughout the academic year.
Favorite Quote: “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.“ - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Electrical Engineering Student
What advice would your future self 10 years from now give you?
The advice I would give my future self 10 years from now would be, “don’t be afraid to try something new.” If you are afraid of failing, you will never have the opportunity to know how far you could have gone. Never give up, you are not alone. You may not see it, but there are people out there, including your family and friends who are rooting for you to succeed.
Blake Crump was born in Indianapolis and is a senior at Georgia Tech, by way of the dual degree program at Morehouse College. He is pursuing a degree in both applied physics and electrical engineering. Positioning him in a unique group of African American men in the field of science and technology, a space he occupies proudly. He wears blackness with pride because he not only can better himself but will also give back to his community. In his spare time, he likes to draw, jog, and socialize with his peers.
Favorite Quote: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” - Maya Angelou
Computer Engineering Student
Why did you choose Georgia Tech and how is it serving you on your journey to becoming a Black engineer?
I chose to attend Georgia Tech to complete my computer engineering degree through a special 3-2 dual-degree program. I wanted to get the best of both worlds by not only going to my top two schools but to also spend time at both an HBCU and PWI (predominantly white institution). I recently received my computer science degree from Spelman College. By attending Spelman first, I was able to become very rooted in who I am as an Afro-Latina woman in the realm of STEM. So, coming to Georgia Tech now has allowed me to not just become the next student, I am choosing to become to next world changer.
Erin Ojeda is a junior computer engineering major from Atlanta. She has previously interned with Boeing and Lockheed Martin as a software and hardware engineer. She has also completed research in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science.
Favorite Quote: "I can only be myself." - Erin Ojeda