Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m originally from Maryland, and I studied civil engineering for my undergraduate degree at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
When I came out to USC, I really got into puzzles — I love puzzles! Before COVID-19, I loved going to concerts and the beach regularly. I love reading, listening to music, and learning in general.
Now I’m studying environmental engineering at USC. This is my third year as a Ph.D. student.
What sparked your interest in environmental engineering?
When I was young, my mom said that whatever I decide to do, I should love it, I should be good at it, and it should pay well. I love math, and the highest paying jobs in math, according to my Google search in seventh grade, were accounting and engineering. Engineering stood out to me because it provides the opportunity to improve others’ quality of life using problem solving and critical thinking skills — overall seemed a lot more fun.
My aunt followed up what my mom said by saying that whatever I chose to do should give back to the community, so when I was looking at branches of engineering, civil engineering stood out because it was the oldest form of engineering — just putting a log across a river and using it as a bridge is an example. I figured that civil engineering was one of the best ways to give back.
During my sophomore year in undergrad as a civil engineering student, I took my first environmental engineering course, Fundamentals of Environmental Engineering, and I learned about how many people don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water, which is a basic need for life. This kind of baffled me, that clean, safe drinking water is something that not everyone has access to. It didn’t sit well with me, and I knew I wanted to pursue that major. At my undergrad, environmental engineering wasn’t offered as a major, so I knew graduate school was the next step and I made it happen.
What attracted you to choose USC for your graduate studies?
I knew I wanted to get my Ph.D., and I wanted as much education as possible, because I believe knowledge is power. When I was looking at graduate programs, I knew I wanted to be somewhere warm, because it would be an extended period of time wherever I’d be living. So I looked at California for environmental engineering programs, and USC was the first school to pop up. And I searched the faculty within the civil and environmental engineering department to find my current advisor, who was the only one who had drinking water treatment specifically as a keyword in his research. So I sent an email to him, and he was very receptive and very open when I inquired about his research and discussed my shared interest. He said, “Sure! Let’s Skype; send me your resume.” And from there, we got along really well, so I applied, and here I am!
Tell us about your interests outside of the classroom.
As far as things I do in L.A., I love trying new food, new places; I would go to concerts at least once a week before the pandemic. I love going to the beach and comedy shows too.
On campus, I am the National Society of Black Engineers Graduate Student Liaison. I help graduate students get funding to the national and regional conferences. Now I’m in my second term for the 2020-2021 academic year, and I’m looking to expand the role so it’s more widely known, and trying to make it more established and sustainable before I transition out. The new leadership for the Viterbi Graduate Student Association is expanding that role, so I am collaborating with them as an organization (NSBE) ambassador. I was a consultant for the 2020 Viterbi Summer Institute, which is a program for incoming freshmen to get research experience. My primary role was to advise the leaders within the Center for Engineering Diversity and help coordinate with the Ph.D. research mentors.
Through Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and the Viterbi Admission & Student Engagement (VASE) office, I became a mentor for incoming graduate students throughout my second year. I had four mentees, two for each semester, and my main priority was to reach out and check in on them regularly. I made sure I met with them at least once in person. I also served as a student ambassador for Viterbi, sharing my USC experience with prospective master’s students. I also volunteered for open houses, sat on panels, and led lab tours.
What are your future plans after completing your degree?
My research is focused on wastewater reuse and identifying and measuring disinfection byproducts, the chemicals that form when we use disinfection techniques, like adding chlorine. With what I’m learning as far as becoming well versed in water quality, I am interested in pursuing a postdoctoral program/position overseas after I graduate, preferably in an Africa country or India to help with providing access to clean water in those areas. If not, I’m open to academia, nonprofits, private industry, or whatever will help me work toward promoting clean water access to those who need it. I also want to make sure I have the opportunity to visit my home and family in Maryland at will.
What innovations/discoveries do you hope to see (or be a part of!) in the next ten years?
I would like to see a new analytical tool or method to accurately and precisely detect and measure disinfectant byproducts, so that when we switch our techniques we are able to determine whether the new technique is better or safer. That’s what I’m working on right now. I also want to be a part of creating technology that would be accessible to developing countries, or even areas in the U.S. that don’t have access to clean and safe water.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to incoming students?
I recommend focusing on what motivates you to pursue your degree in the first place and reminding yourself of that reason when things get tough.
You’re going to face challenges no matter what route you take to achieve your goals and dreams so it’s good to make sure your decisions align with your ultimate goal. What’s driven me to this path was being told that I should pursue something that I love, I’m good at, and pays well, but also something that gives back to the community. Understanding and staying true to those values got me where I am today, so I highly recommend doing the same.