Case Study: James

I developed a passion for science in high school, which led me to an interest in engineering research in college. Learning new things and how they can eventually improve society has been an awesome experience. I work at the Energy Materials and Biosensors Laboratory at the Mechanical and Materials Engineering at the Florida International University, Miami. I identify as a black minority student.

Through my research experience I have learned the skills to be a better scientist and researcher. I had fears initially about working with people from other backgrounds, but these gradually faded out as a result of the way my colleagues and teammates have been welcoming and very receptive. 

My advice for students from underrepresented groups who want to engage in engineering research is to always have an open mind, be positive, stay focused, and keep in mind why you started the program. There were times when I felt especially low or frustrated, and I always tried to remind myself why I embarked on my Ph.D. journey and where I hoped to be in the future. I like to think about who my work will help and all those who will be affected by the research I’m doing. Our struggles and successes eventually make us more resilient and determined.

My advice for faculty and other leaders who want to welcome individuals from underrepresented groups is similar, but with the focus on the student instead of themselves: Keep an open mind, be positive with your students, stay focused, and remember why you hired them.

As a faculty member, one needs to be open to and prepared for all possibilities, including all backgrounds and identities of their students. People cannot choose most of their identities, and therefore faculty should embrace difference as a way to find more perspectives and solutions. A positive mindset generally results in positive results. Sometimes students from underrepresented groups may have obstacles that impede their performance, but by being empathetic and open to discussion, a faculty member can help the student succeed and create an atmosphere for success. Faculty may be focused on research results, but by focusing on students’ education and growth, not only will your lab and research succeed, but those students will go on to have a stronger impact on society.