Encouraging others to beat the odds

She’s had to work a lot harder than her nonminority counterparts to get where she’s headed, but that hasn’t stopped Jaimie Stewart from doing what she was made for. “I’ve pretty much loved science since I was in kindergarten,” she said. A recent bioengineering graduate, and current doctoral candidate at University of California Riverside, she is a first-generation college student and the first in her family to pursue engineering.

This year the college projects that less than 2 percent of graduating engineers will be African American females. Many have identified this problem, and probably most would wait for someone else to fix it, but Jaimie wants to position herself to do something about it. She took her start at UIC with a clear end in sight: to complete a doctorate and teach undergraduates. “I feel like if [minorities] were to see a black female professor they would be more inclined to participate in engineering.”

Jaimie’s grandmother was a huge motivating factor in her decision to pursue a scientific career. Born into a single-parent home, she lived with her grandmother until she was 12 years old. Watching her lose the battle to colon cancer moved Jaimie to devote her life to medicine. “I wanted to be able to fix the problems she had,” she said. So she came to UIC, initially interested in pursuing medicine. As she began to explore the field of engineering, she found herself excited at the prospect of solving problems.

Most passionate about improving methods in regenerative medicine and drug delivery, Jaimie isn’t waiting until she completes a doctoral degree. Before earning her undergraduate, she was published three times in UIC Bioengineering Student Journal, and had extensive experience presenting at conferences and forums, in places ranging from San Jose to Hartford. She saw her participation in these arenas as good practice, especially for her ultimate goal to teach. “I feel that, in general, engineers have a really hard time trying to say what they’re doing,” she said. “I want be able to effectively convey information.” While at UIC, Jaimie worked on this skill as a tutor with the African American Academic Network, helping students in courses she’s previously taken, such as calculus and chemistry.

Jaimie sees a problem and dedicates herself to the solution. “It’s not just going to be given to you—which is fine because I’m up for the challenge,” she said. If that’s not the most important qualification needed to be an engineer, then what is?

 

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