The creation of my Prepared to Be a Pioneer™ brand emerged from something that I’ve said many times as an Assistant Professor, “I was prepared to be a professor, but I wasn’t prepared to be a pioneer.” I elaborated on this idea in a post for Diverse: Issues in Higher Education- http://diverseeducation.com/article/60415/.
I have always been confident in my academic preparation. After all, my doctoral program at Vanderbilt University occurred in one of the top education programs in the country. I learned about theoretical frameworks, how to apply a variety of research methods, and engaged with internationally renowned scholars in engineering and education. On top of that, I loved writing grants and synthesizing literature, two fundamental skills for academics.
When I was hired as an Assistant Professor, and I discovered after I was hired that I would be the first African-American woman to earn tenure in the College of Engineering, I learned quickly about issues that I was never taught as a minority graduate student enrolled at majority institutions. First, how do you educate an 18 year old student about gender or racial equality when that student had never gone to school with a student of color? Also, what do you do when a local resident calls you “colored” because she is not familiar with the term “African-American?” Finally, how should you respond when everyone confuses you with the only other African-American female engineering professor on campus and one of your mentors debriefs with you by saying, “You do look the same from behind.”? It took me several years to realize that many people were not trying to be malicious in their conversations or exchanges with me- they just had never been exposed to diverse people and situations.
If I had known then what I know now, I think that my experience as an Assistant Professor would have been happier. I spent too much time worrying about why I was different instead of embracing my differences and recognizing that it was okay to bring my perspective to my institution. Today, I want to assist others as they navigate their processes so that they can remain healthy and build strong relationships with others. Being a pioneer is not a death sentence but is an opportunity to show the world something it has never seen before! Thanks for joining me on this journey.
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