Mekides Mezgebu is a Biomedical Engineer and former president of the National Society of Black Engineers at U. Mass Dartmouth. She recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth with a B.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering . She has held positions at Harvard University, The Education School, African American & African studies departments, UMass Dartmouth and Antibody Plus
1. In layperson’s terms, explain what you do.
As of right now, I’ve been working with the Harvard Medical School. I just graduated in May. I’ve been doing a lot of teaching of engineering and engineering topics. I’ve been working with Chinese students on a STEM summer program.
2. Why did you become an engineer?
In eighth grade, my brother did a program called at MIT called the Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery or SEED Academy. He had an amazing time and covered a lot of interesting topics. My parents urged me, that if you have an interest in maths and science you should consider engineering. I followed their advice and I applied and was accepted. So, throughout my high school career, I spent my Saturdays learning engineering topics. That program had a lot to do with why I chose engineering.
3. What is your favorite aspect of each of your jobs?
There is a lot that I enjoy within my career but I think I have a passion for working with people and helping others. There is something very special about biomedical engineering, and that is that you do have a direct connection with a human. I want to continue to help people as much as I can and biomedical engineering allows me to do that.
4. What is the most challenging aspect of each of your jobs?
Biomedical engineering is a very wide field and there are so many different careers one can have. I think right now, as I have only recently graduated, the hardest thing for me to do is figure out exactly what I want to do, and the impact I want to have in the STEM field.
5. What does being an engineer mean to you?
To me, it means one that builds and helps change things. In college, I thought that engineering meant fixing something that was broken or making alterations. Engineers research, develop, discover and impact.
6. What has been your greatest failure, and what have you learned from it?
I think everything has failed at some point in their lives and the most successful people fail several times. I think what I learned a lot from, was from being a leader within my community as a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. There were times I ran to be an elected official, before I become the President, that I lost. Sometimes it was hard being a minority, as an African American woman and immigrant I have had to face a lot of tough issues. Despite these difficulties, I am comfortable to sit here and tell you about them as they have made me a stronger individual.
7. What has been your greatest achievement in your career?
One of the bigger and most recent ones is during my presidency at the National Society of Black Engineers at U. Mass Dartmouth. We had an amazingly successful year. We were able to take and fully finance every interested person to the national conference in Missouri. That required a lot of work but also a lot of tenacity and patience. Everyone from our chapter who did attend the conference received an interview or a job offer!
8. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Looked for mentors that look like me at a younger age. I would have searched for mentors in engineering who were immigrants, or female or African American. That can make a difference as they will truly understand the challenges you are facing, and have advice on how to deal with it.
9. What do you think the most important thing about college for girls considering engineering?
I think confidence and self-esteem are huge. I always joke the hardest part of engineering isn’t the academics, it is everything else, all the mushy stuff that comes with it. It is the confidence one has to sit in a room with 100 other men and realize that you’re supposed to be in the room. You need to have the self-esteem to know that you can do it and you will do it even if you don’t know anyone who looks like you who has done it before. There is nothing that can defeat a women with confidence.
10. What problem would you most like to see solved by science in the next 10 years?
I think a huge problem in science is that there is not as much representation of minorities. It is highly important to make sure we have enough opportunities for our children to see people who look like them in STEM. It can be extremely discouraging when you are young to not see anyone who looks like you in STEM. You feel as if you cannot accomplish it if it looks like nobody like you has.
11. What motivates you?
My immigrant parents motivate me. They came to an unknown country made many sacrifices for their children in the hope that we could attain a better education. That motivates me tremendously
12. How do you define success?
Success is defined by the individual. I measure it by impact. I think the greater the positive impact one has, the more successful they are.
13. What one discovery in science do you most admire and why?
Portable medical devices. My father suffers from high blood pressure. He had to take his blood pressure frequently using his blood pressure cuff at home. Now, with new technology, he can do it with his phone. You can track so many health risks with your phone or other small devices! I think the ability for one to have access to their health immediately is transformative. America is very progressive in terms of biomedical devices compared to the developing world. In 2016, I traveled to Ethiopia to work at a hospital. I have seen what biomedical devices look like in a third world country. America is making a lot of progress, and it brings me comfort that the developments made here, will help so many people globally.
14. What are the greatest challenges facing humans today?
While America is very progressive in terms of biomedical devices, the third world has a long way to go. In 2016, I traveled to Ethiopia to work at a hospital. I have seen what biomedical devices look like in a third world country. A lot needs to be improved, as patients aren’t able to receive the supplies and devices that they need. Work needs to be done to make these technologies less expensive and more widespread.
15. What is your favorite film?
The Pursuit of Happiness. It is a story of Will Smith facing many challenges in his career and his life. He just perseveres, and eventually finds happiness
16. If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would you choose?
I would first choose Barrack Obama and secondly her wife Michelle Obama. I actually met Michelle Obama at a National League of Cities Conference, and she was just amazing. I would like to get to know the two of them.
17. If you could go back in time what advice would you give your high school self?
Don’t give up, be confident in everything you do and continue to dream big. I was a huge dreamer in high school but I did not know if my dreams would come true or if I could really achieve them. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
18. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful engineer?
- Being a strong team worker
19. How would you say your gender has impacted your experience as an engineer and leader of your community?
I think my gender and race has impacted my experience as an engineer substantially. Unfortunately, in the society we live in, we may not claim to see color or gender, but as a minority, it is hard for it not to impact you as an individual. Being in that position, as one that doesn’t have many like you can be harmful, and break your confidence. I think that the key thing is to seek out people who look like you, and organizations that support people who look like you. Don’t allow that to make you feel any less than someone that has more of their kind.
20. Is there any other information you want share with the readers?
If any students who potentially want to pursue STEM or engineering want to connect with me, they can. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you are a young woman, of color especially, the one biggest piece of advice I’d give is to not give up, continue pushing through and get what is yours.