Underestimated: My Experiences as a Black Woman in Engineering

By: Anjola Adewale

Published: February 24 2021

Before Engineering 

My interest in engineering and technology started in grade 11 when I was asked to participate in a competition called Technovation, a three-month competition for girls aged 10-18 interested in STEM. Each team was assigned a female mentor to aid in the process of creating a mobile application to solve an issue in their community. This was a really exciting project for me and greatly contributed to my falling in love with tech! 

Since then, I have connected with multiple women in STEM whose passion and willingness to help others succeed has motivated and inspired me on my journey. 

What life is like during my engineering Degree and some challenges

After deciding I wanted to pursue a degree in engineering my next step was coming to McMaster! However, I soon discovered that I was one of the only two black students in my program. This meant that anytime I messed up, I assumed people would think this was how black people operated, so I felt an extra amount of pressure to represent black people in a good way. I felt as though it was my job to prove peoples’ preconceived notions about black people wrong. With time and the opportunity to speak to others about how I felt, I quickly realized this wasn’t the case. The staff and students at McMaster were very supportive and respected everyone regardless of race and gender. I was so glad to have experienced this, as I know that not everyone has had the same experience that I did. Moments like these continue to encourage me as I move forward as a minority student in engineering.

During one of my classes, my professor mistook me for the other black girl in my tutorial class. I immediately corrected him and he went on to apologize sincerely. I personally didn’t think much of it, but he meant his apology. From that point on and throughout the year, whenever I saw him around campus he made sure to acknowledge me by my name. This further assured me of McMaster’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity. At McMaster, each student is truly more than their student number. Each student is seen as a whole person.

Belonging to a school community which prioritizes inclusivity and diversity and continues to work towards improving this makes me hopeful for the future. In particular, the newly introduced National Society of Black Engineers Entrance Award (NSBE McMaster Scholarship) is one of the steps the Faculty of Engineering in collaboration with the NSBE McMaster chapter is taking to ensure equal access to university education.

My Inspirations

One of the most influential people in my journey towards engineering is Dr Adeola Olubamiji. I found her on Instagram while looking for people that looked like me in the engineering field. Just like me, she was Nigerian schooling in Canada. To my amusement, she was also the first black person to obtain a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan. Dr Adeola is committed to giving back to her community and consistently works hard to pave the way for other black women in engineering. In addition, she has been recognized as Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and RBC’s Top 25 Canadian immigrants to name a few. Finding her made me so happy! Knowing that there were people with my roots who had done what I wanted to do made me feel confident that I too could do it.

Another one of my inspirations is Janelle Hinds, a black engineer and the founder of Helping Hands. Helping Hands is a grassroots, youth-led organization that works to increase youth community engagement through technological platforms as well as in-person activities. I discovered her in 2020 and I found out that she actually graduated from McMaster University, where she studied Electrical and Biomedical engineering. Janelle has been featured in Forbes 30 under 30 list and people like her continue to pave the way for people like me in the technology industry. One of my favorite quotes by her was said at the Launch of Women Entrepreneurship Fund, “As a young black woman, a lot of people look at it and go ‘you’re underrepresented’, the word I prefer is underestimated.” This is something that sits true with me, I found that I was always unconsciously underestimating myself which was a big hindrance to my success.

Upon realizing this, I decided to be my biggest fan and look up to the women that have paved the way for me. If I don’t believe in myself then who will believe in me?

My journey to engineering has been a cascade of taking chances on myself and continuing to believe in myself. Through this journey, having other women in the industry who like me to look up to has made my journey easier.

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Hello, my name is Anjola!

I am one of the two current second-year black and female Biomedical and Software engineering students at McMaster University.

My journey towards where I am hasn’t necessarily been linear, but I’ve been inspired by my community of allies and other black women who have paved the way for me.