Student Essay Contest

The Masterpiece: An Interview with Tennisha Brown

2011 AWM Essay Contest: Undergraduate Level Winner

By: Jarami Bond, Heritage Christian Academy, Zebulon, NC

The bright July sun beams down on the young Tennisha Brown as she eagerly skips into a large building located in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. As she enters the building, she is greeted enthusiastically by staff at MESA, a camp held for young aspiring mathematicians and engineers. Attentively, she listens to guest speakers relay their amazing experiences in the fields of math and engineering. As she goes on educational field trips, participates in hands-on activities, and learns disciplines centered on mathematics and engineering, her passion for design and creativity develop quietly within her. Little did she know that these small investments of time would serve the purpose of leading her to where she is today.
Time passed and this young girl grew into an intelligent adolescent who continued to delight and shine in mathematics and science. Cognizant of this natural aptitude, Tennisha’s mom encouraged her to pursue engineering. Wisely, she heeded her mother’s counsel and decided to set aside her love for artistry and architecture to pursue civil engineering, a career that better fit her academic strengths. In the spring of 1997, Tennisha graduated from Towson Catholic High School. Later that year, she began her undergraduate study of civil engineering at Morgan State University.
In spite of the tedious and demanding nature of her civil engineering studies, Tennisha maintained a high GPA during her time at Morgan State. Committed to a conscientious work ethic, she diligently accomplished all tasks set before her. She enjoyed working with her “engineering family,” a group of like-minded individuals who studied and completed projects together. When times were hard, Tennisha turned to Dr. Robert Johnson, P.E., an experienced engineer and professor who inspired her to persevere and stay focused. He continued to reassure her that the faint light at the end of the tunnel truly existed. Additionally, when she misunderstood a concept, she quickly obtained a tutor, advice that she suggests to all aspiring engineers.
During the summer of her sophomore year, she received a beneficial opportunity to intern with the US Army Corps of Engineers in Germany. Here she worked on renovating military barracks. After this successful overseas journey, she interned in the environmental department within the Baltimore division of the US Army Corps of Engineers. This early exposure to the field of civil engineering would benefit her significantly in the near future. After graduating in 2001, she pursued a master’s degree at Pennsylvania State University in architectural engineering with a concentration in structural design. In 2003 she became the 2nd African-American female to obtain this degree.
With six years of education and two unique internships under her belt, Tennisha was now prepared to enter the work force. In 2003 she became one of the few female civil engineers hired at a Raleigh-based utility company. She started her career as a transmission line engineer. Transmission lines are conductors hung from poles or towers that transmit power at high voltages to distribution substations. These substations reduce the voltage and make it usable for residences and businesses. Tennisha’s job was to survey the land and determine the location, spacing, design, and size of the poles. Because this task requires analytical thought and mathematical ingenuity, she loved this versatile job. Without people like Tennisha, homes and local businesses could not make use of electricity. She enjoyed having a direct impact on society. Tennisha now has transferred her engineering skills into project management and works in the Real Estate department for the same company.
Predictably, Tennisha’s consistent work ethic that led to her collegiate success has paid off in the corporate arena as well. She rightfully earned the title of “Senior Engineer,” a high rank within the department. In addition she and Dr. Thomas Boothby of Pennsylvania State University coauthored an article on reinforced concrete. In 2005 it was published in the Journal of Composites for Construction.
However, all good things come with a cost. In response to her success, sexist males at work treated her with disapproval and disdain. They unfairly stereotyped her as an incompetent woman. Not only was she excluded from opportunities, projects, field visits and even conversations, but she also experienced rejection in response to her ideas and proposals. Despite her difficulty in establishing herself as a legitimate voice, she overcame this obstacle by remaining confident, persevering, and earning respect amongst her colleagues.
In order to lessen the impact of gender-based discrimination, Tennisha takes newly-hired women under her wings and mentors them. She hopes that they will embrace the opportunities provided by the profession. In addition to advising young female engineers, she aims to launch an educationally-enriching foundation within the next decade. She envisions a program that exposes children to different cultures via missions trips and volunteer opportunities. Tennisha recognizes that while it is important to find satisfaction and success in her career, it is also imperative to balance her priorities by serving her community.
Who would have known that the young middle school girl skipping to the door of mathematics and engineering camp would have blossomed into such an influential, sacrificial, and successful woman? She is a woman who has not only flourished corporately, but also ignited change in her workplace and community. Every experience from Tennisha’s childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood has contributed to the masterpiece that her life is today.
About the Student:
As I complete my 2nd presidential term in the Eta Sigma Alpha Honor Society and my final semester as a dual enrolled student at South Piedmont Community College, my excitement meter for attending college is rapidly increasing. Outside of school and college preparation, I enjoy playing basketball, working as a staff assistant and math tutor at the community college, and serving my community. On May 21, 2011, I will graduate from Heritage Christian Academy and prepare to embark on an unforgettable journey at North Carolina State University. Upon matriculation to the college campus this fall, I plan to utilize my mathematical strengths as I pursue a degree in civil engineering.