Early exposure to basic stem concepts is key. The more skills you can develop and knowledge obtained prior to entering a degree program, the better off you’ll be.
Who is Carmen Wallace?
My name is Carmen Wallace. I am 31 years old and a mother of one beautiful son. I am currently employed for a Class-1 Railroad as a Project Engineer. I received a B.S. in Electronics Engineering Technology from Northwestern State University. I then attended graduate school at Louisiana Tech University where I received an M.S. in Engineering Management.
A.S. Electronics Technology
B.S. Electronics Engineering Technology
M.S. Engineering Management
Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Project Management
How did you choose to pursue this field?
I initially chose to follow in the footsteps of my mother and become a nurse. I soon realized I was not cut out for that type of work when I almost hyperventilated in reaction to my brother breaking his arm. Another thing that deterred me from a career in nursing was the feeling that I was doing what was expected of me. Nursing was commonplace for the majority of the women at the university I was attending. My desire was to stand out, as I’ve never considered myself ordinary. I honestly had no idea what career path to choose. One day I decided to Google “top 10 jobs in the U.S.” 90 percent of the listed fields were in Engineering. The next day, I changed my major to one of the only two engineering degrees offered at my university, Electronics Engineering Technology, and the rest is history.
Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?
My biggest inspiration was my mother. She taught me to be confident in my abilities which encouraged me to take on a more rigorous degree program without fear of failure.
Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?
As mentioned above, I initially enrolled in college as a Nursing major. I decided to change my major to Engineering based on its growth outlook and career satisfaction. The Technology industry just seemed like the most logical choice in that tech jobs were and still are in such high demand.
What do you love most about your job?
I love how stimulating my job is. Railroad signaling is very specialized. Every project is different and brings on a new set of challenges.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing that I am a true trailblazer. I am the first African-American woman ever hired in my department. It is my greatest hope that my position will open doors of opportunity for other women of color.
What things would you change about your job?
I would increase my company’s focus on diversity by making it a key initiative. I am currently the only female in my entire department and I’m the only African-American in management in my department. I would love to change my work environment to one that is more inclusive to women and African-Americans to help close the disparity gap that currently exists.
What has been the most difficult or disappointing aspect of your job?
The most disappointing aspect of my job is walking into a room and not seeing anyone that looks like me. This can potentially have an adverse effect on your work performance when confronted with feelings of isolation, not having anyone to relate or look up to, etc.
How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?
I try to approach every aspect of my life in a positive manner. Some would consider being the minority a disadvantage, but I’ve learned how to use it to my advantage. Being a woman of color in STEM automatically puts the spotlight on me, allowing the opportunity to really showcase who I am personally and professionally.
What tips would you offer for anyone thinking about entering into your profession?
Get licensed! The PE (professional engineer) title after your name is an advantage that will open doors for the rest of your life, boosting your prestige, career development, authority, flexibility and salary.
What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?
I would advise my younger self to seek mentorship. A mentor would have allowed me to tap into a resource of solutions to some of the challenges I faced based on their own experiences. Having someone in your life who has blazed the trail before you that is willing to share wisdom can be very beneficial.
Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?
Early exposure to basic stem concepts is key. The more skills you can develop and knowledge obtained prior to entering a degree program, the better off you’ll be. Seek internships, get involved in stem summer programs, seek mentors and job shadowing opportunities.
What is your favorite Quote? How do you apply this to your life?
“A negative mind will never give you a positive life.” I apply this quote to my life by allowing my thoughts to create my future.
What are your future goals related to your career?
My short-term goal is to become a Senior Manager. I’ve been given the opportunity to shadow one of my superiors as part of my company’s succession planning. I hope to step into the current Senior Manager’s position upon his retirement next year. My long-term goal would be to help form a diversity committee within my company. I recently met with members of Human Resources and the local African-American Chamber of Commerce to discuss ways to promote diversity and build partnerships in the community.
How has your family influenced your journey and provide support?
I come from a very large and close-knit family consisting of my parents, five siblings and a slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins. We always encourage and celebrate each other’s accomplishments which is what I love most about our family dynamic. Knowing I have people in my corner who hold me to a very high standard, has really kept me motivated despite my adversities. And of course, I have to mention my son. He is the passion that keeps me productive and committed to building a legacy.
How do you juggle motherhood and your career?
A good support system is one thing that helps me juggle motherhood and my career. The railroad industry can be very demanding. Early in my career, I traveled frequently which was hard because at the time my son was an infant. Luckily, I had a great support system that cared for him while i was away. My mother and my son’s father were a huge help. Secondly, I’ve realized the importance of separating my work from my personal life. When my shift is over, my mom hat goes on and I’m completely dedicated to that role. I never take the stresses of work home with me.
What are some interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?
- I have a YouTube channel (NaturallyEngineered) where I create content related to natural hair care and styles.
- I am a fitness fanatic. I work out 5 days/week.
- I was a college athlete (basketball and track)
Contact Carmen Wallace for any further questions:
We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.