Determined Delta: Fight for what you want
Success wasn’t handed to Gwendolyn Boyd on a silver platter.
As a black woman starting out in the engineering profession in the US, she faced her fair share of challenges when trying to break into the male dominated field.
“There were a few who, despite the fact I was capable and proved myself with grades, doubted me,” she told
The Royal Gazette.
“But I was determined and persistent and knew I was capable because I had the grades to prove it and I wasn’t going to let anyone else determine my future for me.”
Dr Boyd, a former President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, left the Island yesterday after serving as the guest speaker at the sorority’s Centennial Gala on Saturday night.
She attained much success in her career and is currently working as an engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in mathematics (with a minor in physics and music) from Alabama State University; she became the first black woman to earn a Master of Science degree from Yale University in Mechanical Engineering.
In December 2009, President Barack Obama nominated her to the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
Speaking at this weekend’s gala, she said the sorority’s 100th anniversary was an important milestone. Not only had the sorority sustained itself, it has also stayed true to its original purpose, mission and vision.
“That is significant no matter how you look at it that hundreds of thousands of women have gone through and become initiated, yet the sorority has also maintained its fundamental vision of service, sisterhood and scholarship.
“So celebrating that as an achievement and remembering why we are still here is important,” she said.
Just as the torch had been passed to women of her generation, Dr Boyd said it was crucial for current members to prepare the track for younger women going forward.
She joined the Delta’s while in undergraduate school at Alabama State University. At that point she had never heard of a sorority before; in fact she was the first person in her family to even get to college.
But while on campus she noticed there were a group of “powerful” young women in leadership roles in student government and the honour society. They all had one thing in common — they wore red and white.
“I started asking people who those women were and they said: ‘Those are the Deltas’,” she said.
“I saw they were game changers, women on the move with no fear and who were smart and seemed to stick together and support each other.
“At that point I decided I wanted to pursue becoming a Delta.”
Since joining the sorority she has found the women in the group to be forward thinking and proactive — she was inspired to maintain those qualities as well.
They have supported her in her career growth, just as she has helped scores of other young women, particularly those interested in the engineering field, by offering guidance and advice.
She acknowledges that most people don’t like math or science — in fact as a youngster she was labelled a ‘nerd’ by her peers — but it’s important for new people to enter the profession, she said.
Particularly in the world we live in today, it’s vital for people to understand technology and choose careers in math and engineering.
Dr Boyd inspires young women to be anything they want and tells them not to let anyone to smash their dreams or make them believe they have to fit in a certain box.
“One of the biggest lessons I try and teach young people is to be careful who you say are your friends because they will be the people who influence you to dream big and move forward or meet the status quo and stay where you are,” she said.
She credits her early success to her grandmother and wonderful teachers who encouraged her to push past the normal boundaries of what was considered possible.
She said: “My mom died when I was 13 and I was raised by my grandmother who didn’t even know what engineering was, but she was one to say whatever you want to do you can do it.
“The inspiration [to succeed] came from her but I think in terms of seeing women working and pursuing their dreams my teachers, especially my female teachers, were always there to give me that encouragement and say ‘You have great potential, good grades and you can keep going’.
“I always applaud teachers and let them know you have an important role in reaching young people. They do really make a difference.”
She said it was important for this generation to be encouraged to dream big because some of the careers they will have in the future haven’t even been invented yet.
“But if you have the knowledge and enthusiasm and don’t let anyone step on your dreams you can move into areas that haven’t even been heard of,” she said.
While she admitted that sexism and racism are still alive in the world today, she urged people not to let those things define them.
“You have to be the captain of your own dreams and a person who defines yourself,” she said. “Make up your mind and put your nose forward and say to yourself ‘I am going to do it’ and surround yourself with people who believe in you.”