Seminar details trek of women in STEM sectors

Local engineer inspires the minds of science, technology students

By Asma Alkrizy, Staff Writer

The Center for Science Excellence invited a seminar speaker on Friday in PS-132 to explain her role in managing the new campus center project and share her personal journey through her career as a structural engineer.
CSE program Director Seti Sidharta introduced Contra Costa College students to Shalilah Reynolds, assistant construction manager for Critical Solutions, who helped manage the project of demolishing the three buildings to rebuild the new campus center.
On the opening panel, Reynolds gave a brief overview about how she manages construction of the new campus center project, a three building project expected to be completed by August 2016.
“We manage the overall process of the (new campus center) project,” Reynolds said. “As construction managers, we make sure the project is delivered in time and done properly. Worker’s safety is also important.”
She said construction managers deal with live loads, which are movable forces, such people and furniture. Dead loads, on the other hand, include roofs and walls, things permanently attached to a building.
The contractor’s responsibility is to identify problems, she said, while the construction managers develop mechanisms to resolve them.
Reynolds recounted her college experiences that fostered her passion for constructional engineering.
“I always liked math and science,” she said. “This is probably what sparked my interest in engineering discipline.”
Reynolds said in high school she took advanced classes, such as chemistry and physics, that prepared her for college level classes.
She also had a great interest in building things with her hands. She said she enjoyed taking pieces of electronics and attaching them together.
“When thinking about exploring your career and passion, think about the bigger picture,” she said. “Choose a career where you’ll find fulfillment.  Don’t let salaries drive you to your career. No one wants to be stuck in a career they don’t like. For me, when I entered college, I already knew what I wanted to be. I found my strength in engineering.”
Reynolds said she grew up in Oakland and saw the Bay Area a diverse shock. Coming from an African- American background, she said she loved the feeling of living in a diverse environment, surrounded by people of color.
She said she first attended California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo because she wanted to be close to her home, but found out that “African-Americans were very scarce in that campus.”
After staying two years at Cal Poly, she transferred to a historically black university, (HBCU) Clark University in Atlanta.
“It was a beautiful environment and a great engineering college,” she said. “I made a lot of friends. It was lovely to learn engineering from an African- American professor. I felt like I could become a successful engineer too.”
Toward the end of the event, Reynolds reinforced the importance of internships and professional organizations, which give students an opportunity to develop in their field of interest and explore career options.
Reynolds said during her college years, she joined the National Society of Black Engineers organization and did an internship in an architecture company, which developed her professionally.
“You have to go after (internships),” she said. “I had to make my own way, got internships that gave me great insight about my career. They make you well-rounded.”
She said scholarships are also crucial for students facing economic and educational disadvantage. “There’s so much free money out there,” she said. “Don’t let writing a personal statement hold you back.”
After the panel, Carolyn Hodge, chairperson of the African-American studies department, said bringing Reynolds was a chance for students to look up to her as an African-American woman.
She said students grow up in neighborhoods or environments with role models in their lives, and it’s essential for students, especially minority students, to feel motivated.
“It’s good that we live in a diverse environment (Bay Area), but we still see whites at the top,” she said. “People of color and also women need to seek possibilities that’ll open up higher education and jobs for them so everyone gets the opportunity to be at the top.”
Reynold’s invitation kindled the interest of engineering major students, as students asked her multiple questions after the panel discussion.
“I bring seminar representatives to CSE events so students can feel motivated,” Dr. Sidharta said.
“So I decided today to bring an engineering seminar speaker. I want students to get the opportunities I didn’t get —  to apply to scholarships and internships.”
Mahmoud Al-dabbas, an environmental engineer, said the seminar discussion was beneficial.
“The (seminar) was helpful, because you can connect to the speaker. It’s motivating to have a speaker from our community.”