Why are African Americans underrepresented in engineering? Many say a lack of role models in the field for black K–12 students and a lack of early exposure to STEM for our kids are two of the main reasons. Looking back at my life, and the success I’ve had as an electrical engineering student at the University of Houston, I see a lot of truth in those ideas.

My parents met at Prairie View A&M University, a Historically Black Institution in Texas, where my mother earned a bachelor’s degree in education and my father majored in electrical engineering technology. I grew up in Houston, Texas. Hearing my father talk about his work in IT is what initially got me interested in engineering and technology.

I also benefited from having an elementary school teacher and administrator as my mom. Having her involved in my education at such a young age was very good for me, although I didn’t fully realize it at the time. Did I mention that my mom was also my principal in elementary school? Yes, you can imagine.

My liking for science and math sprouted early, grew through the years and turned into my desire to become an electrical engineer when I took physics in high school and got to learn about circuits.

I was also enriched by the racial and ethnic diversity of my upbringing. Nearly all of the students in my elementary schools were black or Hispanic, and I attended middle school and high school in Fort Bend County, which was extremely diverse.

Still, with all of these advantages, or maybe because of them, I admit, I didn’t apply myself fully as a student in high school. I would never give 100 percent: it was always either 80 or 90.

That changed when I enrolled at UH. My mindset became, “OK, now I’m paying money to be here, so I really have to buckle down. And the higher my grades, the more scholarships and career opportunities I can get.”

Which brings me to another common barrier between African Americans and engineering careers, which is finances. Two organizations that have helped me move past that obstacle are NSBE and ExxonMobil.

As a freshman at UH, I was trying to find an organization that would really benefit me as much as possible. NSBE was by far the best option. Being able to engage with older students, network with engineering professionals who look like me and want to see me succeed, and take a leadership role in helping organize a campus event — the College of Engineering Career Fair at UH — have enabled me to maximize my potential.

I heard from fellow classmates that NSBE provided scholarships, so I went to NSBE.org and saw the ExxonMobil Corporate Scholarship. The application was pretty easy to complete: it only took an hour or two. And I was awarded the scholarship.

The rewards have been great. In addition to the monetary grant, I also got to work as an intern for ExxonMobil for the spring and summer of 2018, as a field electrical engineer. I loved the work and learned a lot from the experience, and can see myself making a career in the oil and gas industry. The GPA requirement is high, 3.5, but the scholarship funds allowed me to focus on my academics. I have a 3.7 GPA at present.

Career-wise, I know I’m just at my beginning, but I’m already trying to “pay forward” the blessings I’ve received and help others with the lessons I’ve learned. My advice to younger students is to apply, whether that means applying yourself by giving 100 percent to reach your dream, or literally filling out an application, as I did, for an ExxonMobil Corporate Scholarship. Opportunities are out there for you. Applying can open so many doors that you’re not even aware of.

Why are African Americans underrepresented in engineering? Many say a lack of role models in the field for black K–12 students and a lack of early exposure to STEM for our kids are two of the main reasons. Looking back at my life, and the success I’ve had as an electrical engineering student at the University of Houston, I see a lot of truth in those ideas.