Celebrating Black History Month, Statler College alumni share their experiences from students to professional engineers
Black engineers have made significant contributions to society and changed the way humans think, work and create. Two West Virginia University alumni are among those pushing the boundaries of engineering, innovation and technology.
Story by Adrianne Uphold, Graduate Assistant
Line-Audrey Nkule and Gbolahan "Bugzy" Idowu shared their professional contributions, stories of resilience and personal success as engineers during the webinar, "Celebrating Black Excellence: Speaking truth to power and inspire positive change."
Over the years, Nkule and Idowu have generously given their time to prospective and current students at Statler College. They have spoken to hundreds of students about their professional experience in classrooms and virtual sessions.
"Throughout the month of Black History, we celebrate the achievements of African Americans and the important roles that they have played in shaping American history, culture, science and beyond. Black History Month is a time to recognize firsthand experiences that educate and inspire," said Cerasela Zoica Dinu, associate dean for student, faculty and staff engagement, professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and chairperson of the Statler College DEI Committee.
Nkule is a 2018 graduate of the Statler College. She has a dual bachelor's degree in mining engineering, civil and environmental engineering and a geology minor. Shortly after graduation, Nkule was hired in the Mining Technical Development Program at Caterpillar, Inc. In her current role, Nkule represents the company in the commercial mining technology space, supporting other Caterpillar groups, dealers and customers.
Originally from Cameroon, Nkule moved to the United States in 2013 to further her academic studies when she was 16. Nkule’s interest in engineering sparked from watching Jacob's Cross, a South African drama series focusing on a petroleum and diamond mining empire.
"I was fascinated by the work that was done with the soil on-site in the show," Nkule said. "The confidence that all of these engineers had in that specific show is where my journey started and what made me want to be like them."
Nkule started her associate degree at a community college in Maryland. Because she started so young, she was worried about how she would handle transitioning from a small community college to a larger university like WVU.
"I was quite anxious when I had to move from Maryland to West Virginia to start school," Nkule said. "I was welcomed with open arms by a few international students, the mining department and the WVU Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) chapter," Nkule said. "On the first day, they encouraged me, welcomed me – having people that showed me around and made me feel included helped my transition."
The resources and support she received from SME allowed her to network and build connections with other mining engineers and dive deeper into her passions within mining engineering. Along with SME, Nkule found many connections and relationships within the WVU chapters of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
"I had a whole network I could talk to about mineral processing, mine planning, mine operations," Nkule said. "That made my life way easier in narrowing down what I wanted to get involved in while in school."
The SME – WVU Chapter also connected Nkule with Statler College mining alumni during Appalachian regional conferences that pushed her to look beyond just her coursework to focus heavily on her overarching career goals.
"This is the type of support you need as you're transitioning during your junior year or senior year into your industry," Nkule said. "We need to have leaders that help you see beyond just getting a mining or civil engineering degree."
Along with networking within the college, Nkule said learning about non-technical skills through classes constructed around professional development was impactful to her growth as an engineer. She contributes a great deal of her success to Statler College professors who pushed her throughout her academic studies like David Martinelli, professor in the Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Vladislav Kecojevic, professor and Robert E. Murray Chair of the Department of Mining Engineering.
"The CE 301 Professional Development class focused on career paths, job searches, professional resumes, engineering ethics, professional societies within engineering and it acknowledged that you're not going to know everything when you step out into your career, and that's okay," Nkule said.
Nkule encourages students to step out and take risks. Join more student organizations, talk to people you wouldn't usually and build as many connections as you can while in school. Looking back at her experience at Statler College, she can't remember when she didn't feel comfortable reaching out to ask for help or resources.
"Opportunities that came at Statler, and my network, changed my life," Nkule said. "I feel like I had a well-rounded experience, both on the network side, and the professional development side, with my academic life but also with all these extracurricular activities that make you the best engineer before you leave."
Gbolahan "Bugzy" Idowu
Idowu graduated from WVU with a master's degree in mechanical engineering and a bachelor's degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering. Fast forward to 2022, Idowu works at Tesla in Reno, Nevada, as a manufacturing equipment engineer.
Nigerian native Idowu's first moment on campus was not until his first week of classes. Not having the opportunity to tour the campus in a foreign country held a lot of uncertainty for Idowu. Still, before he moved to the United States, he was already making connections with the WVU international community.
"Even though I wasn't here, the International Center set me up with a mentor and others that I could talk to," Idowu said. "Little things like that make you feel like you're at home before you even get to WVU. Having constant mentorship and the connection with the international community helped to make me feel at peace and not feel overwhelmed that I was coming to a foreign place for the first time."
He was drawn to Statler College because WVU is one out of 15 universities in the U.S. that offers a degree in petroleum engineering. His passion for sustainable energy had been ignited from growing up in Nigeria. Idowu noted that his family would struggle with the electricity going on and off frequently.
"Growing up in Nigeria, we had instances where we would lose power every so often," Idowu said. "You had to plan your life around whenever you had electricity. So, I knew that I wanted to bring affordable energy to communities that need help."
When Idowu came to WVU, he had an idea of helping others with sustainable energy, and his professors guided him in the right direction of where his strengths were. Idowu noted that the support from his network, engagement and outreach activities aided in his success after graduation.
"It doesn't matter if you come from New Jersey, or if you come from West Africa, like Line-Audrey and me, the Statler College engagement is very consistent and ensuring that every student is set up for success."
Throughout his studies and career, being resilient and adaptable to changes allowed Idowu to navigate adversity. Idowu said the exposure to high-pressure situations early on in his career influenced his growth as an engineer.
"Whenever I'm getting frustrated because I have a tool down and I am going through the troubleshooting processes, I remind myself that I know I can do this because I've gotten the job done before in many other situations that were much harder," Idowu said. "I'll lean on the resilience that I have from those experiences in undergrad where I had to attack a problem from different angles continuously, and I know I'll get to a solution in the end."
The “Celebrating Black Excellence" webinar series is hosted by the Statler College Student, Faculty and Staff Engagement Office. Future events can be found at engagement.statler.wvu.edu.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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