Glennae Williams is still months away from her May 17 graduation, but is already on the path to making her Southwest Baltimore community of Mt. Winans proud.
Not only is she set to graduate with a baccalaureate degree from Morgan State University, but she is doing so as an industrial engineering major—adding her name to the short list of African-American women scientists making headway for other minorities.
“I always liked math, so engineering wasn’t so far from what I thought I would be able to possibly do,” said Williams, who comes from a family of civil engineers.
With a job already lined up for her at the Johns Hopkins University Physics Lab, Williams is just one example of what it means to exhibit grace under pressure.
Aside from balancing her own difficult courses with the academic and personal challenges that come with entering the workforce, Williams has also helped her mother battle multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, the latter diagnosis coming during Williams’ senior year.
“She was leaving class to help me get up in the morning—doing homework and helping me when I was in pain,” said mother, DaVeeta White. “She wasn’t always successful, sometimes she failed a class for not getting all her work in, or because she missed a major test when I was having surgery.”
Williams eventually learned to balance her caregiver duties with the rigorous challenges she faced at Morgan State.
“She worked for me for about three years and she has led our student organization, the Pre-freshman Accelerated Curriculum in Engineering, or PACE,” said Dr. Carl White, no relation, the associate dean of the School of Engineering at Morgan State. “Glennae has done very well, and she has been very influential in running the tutoring program during the semester.”
Upon receiving her degree, Williams will join the ranks of African American women scientists, which according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, are few in number.
Though women of all races make up 48 percent of the Americans clocking into work everyday, only 24 percent of those women are checking into jobs in a STEM-related field. According to information from the U.S. Census, though African American women make up 10 percent of the workforce, only 6.7 percent are actively employed in a STEM field.
Whether these women are working in hospitals or universities, their numbers are limited but growing thanks to programs such as the HBCU-Undergrad Program, an organization focused on increasing the number of African Americans in STEM fields.
“Women of our backgrounds do not move up in the professional ladder like men do,” said Claudia Rankins, a program officer for the National Science Foundation. “In academia, they sort of fall off between the associate and full professor level.”
“HBCU-UP is designed to make sure that HBCUs are competitive with other institutions that have bigger resources,” she said. “We also help them continue to stay current and continue to move forward by funding individual projects or institutions, upgrading equipment, employing new teaching strategies, and involve undergraduates in research.”
As the semester winds down, Williams said her goal is all the more clear—especially after seeing how few and far between her peers are.
“It’s such a great accomplishment, but it’s hard for me to see because I’m at an HBCU- not only do I see a lot of African Americans but I see a lot of women,” Williams said. “When we go outside of the realm of the HBCU, to events at different companies, it’s a shock. I can’t believe we’re not out there. I can’t believe we are not represented.”
Williams said she is looking forward to starting her work at Johns Hopkins as a process improvement specialist, a contract position through Grove Resource Solutions, Inc.
“I just hope to leave a good impression,” she said, “not only for Morgan State University’s School of Engineering, but for African Americans and for my age group. We are intelligent, we can be professional and we can get the job done.”