Robotics Engineer Terrence Southern Wants More Young Black Scientists

Terrence Southern COURTESY TERRENCE SOUTHERN
Terrence Southern
COURTESY TERRENCE SOUTHERN

What will it take for African Americans to close the achievement gap in science, technology, engineering and math? It’s a complex issue that experts say involves, among other factors, the public education system, poverty and teachers’ unconscious racial bias.

So far, the solutions have been elusive. But there’s a consensus that mentorship is a key.

Terrence Southern, 37, knows the challenges that lie ahead for the next generation regarding STEM. He’s a robotics engineer with 15 years in the tech industry who grew up in Detroit, where his dreams were nurtured by an eighth-grade teacher. He wants to be that kind of support for as many young people as possible.

He works currently for GE Transportation as a robotics and automation engineer. But the wealth of his experience came at General Motors in his hometown. In his first position at GM at age 23, he led a robotics team tasked with conducting multimillion-dollar projects. A mentor, who’s now a close friend, guided him around the land mines he encountered.

Southern recalls that he was almost always “the only black kid in the room” at GM. He says some of his colleagues had trouble with not only his skin color but also his youth. They expected—even hoped—that Southern would fail.

Instead, he succeeded at every challenge with flying colors. “But five, seven years later, they would continue to question me as they did in my first year,” he recollects—reliving the frustration. “I asked myself what I would have to do to gain their trust, and for them to know that I’m capable.”

Reflecting, Southern believes he would have probably failed without his mentor, Ray Roberts, a GM manager. Southern says, “He told me up front, ‘They’re going to try different things to shake your faith, shake your confidence and put you in a situation where you don’t think you can win. If you do well, that’s going to intimidate them.’”

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Source: The Root | NIGEL ROBERTS