Two Dual Major STEM Students Earn Full Tuition to Graduate School, Fortune 500 Job
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Doneisha Steele and Ezra Connell Will Graduate from Lincoln University May 12
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, Pa. – Of all the students who turn their mortar board tassels and graduate from Lincoln University on May 12, only two will do so as dual majors in both engineering science and mathematics. Their hard work is paying off with a graduate school fellowship and top job offer.
Doneisha Steele, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, now living in Newark, Delaware, accepted a full scholarship and stipend to pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Delaware. Ezra Connell, a North Philadelphia native, has accepted a position with Lockheed Martin as a systems engineering associate.
Steele took her dreams of pursuing a doctorate in a STEM field and added actionable steps to make it happen. After transferring from a 60,000-student university to Lincoln her junior year, she decided she would only take three semesters to graduate and quickly set to work building her research, teaching, and academic credentials.
“During my first week, I did nothing but fall in love with Lincoln and its charm,” Steele said. “The diversity in faculty and staff and especially the professors who really take a vested interest in the success and wellbeing of their students, is really remarkable. The rich history of the campus being the first degree granting HBCU, and notable alum — I was proud to be Lincoln student.”
On campus, she built relationships with her classmates. She became a leader among her peers, having been elected chapter president of the National Society of Black Engineers. One of her mathematics professor, Claude M. Tameze, associate professor and chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, said she “devoted her time to helping her peers to advance academically and to strengthening their social and emotional competence.”
In the lab, Steele conducted research under Vesna Zeljkovic, associate professor in electrical engineering. Steele was also awarded $7,500 academic award for research related to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Doneisha has contributed to NSF – sponsored research with Andriy Semychayevskyy, assistant professor of physics and engineering, and presented a paper entitled “Effects of high optical injection levels in polycrystalline Si wafers on carrier transport” at the American Physical Society March Annual Meeting in 2017.
Tameze said she is “brilliant, dedicated, committed, respectful, and professional; in short, matching the profile of a future leader who will advance the legacy of Lincoln University.”
Zeljkovic called Steele “one of my best students that I’ve taught at Lincoln University.”
“She is very intelligent, brilliant and hard-working student who cares about and helps her classmates and shows high respect to her professors,” Zeljkovic said.
But her research pursuits did not stop at the campus’s edge; she pursued off-campus internships to bolster her academic credentials. During a research internship at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, she worked with two students and a faculty member to identify and quantify air borne carcinogens. At the Alcoa Power and Propulsion lab in La Porte, Indiana, she developed and executed three experiments and analyses to test turbine defects. She also interned at the Center for Advanced Turbo Machinery and Energy Research in Orlando, Florida and completed research at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago, where she analyzed water resource management.
Steele and Connell were both awarded the 2016 Dwight D. Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship, which provided financial support for their studies at Lincoln and included a trip to the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, D.C. in January 2017.
Her graduate work at the University of Delaware is funded by the National GEM Consortium, whose mission is to increase the participation of underrepresented groups at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science. The GEM Fellowship provides a paid, 12-week internship this summer with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois working with particle physics, electrical engineering, and detector electronics. She will see a familiar face when she arrives at Fermilab; Semychayevskyy will be there this year as a visiting faculty member.
Like, Steele, Ezra Connell also transferred to Lincoln.
“College felt like a fresh start because I was physically on my own for the first time,”
Getting through freshman year was a goal Connell had to fight to achieve.
“Growing up as a child in North Philadelphia was a challenge in itself,” Connell said. “Gunshots and police sirens were a normal affair at night. Most if not all of my childhood friends had no aspirations of going to college; school was not a priority.”
“A lot of my peers focused on athletics to get out of the city. Athleticism was not my gift, so I had to focus on my studies, which is where I strived. …I made a commitment to get out of Philadelphia’s ‘grasp’ to do something no one in my family had ever done. This has not been an easy journey.”
An important step in the journey came in middle school when Connell completed a Summer Bridge program at Philadelphia’s Grover Washington Middle School that encouraged students to explore STEM fields.
“At the time I was ignorant to the fact that blacks were lacking in the sciences,” Connell said. “My father worked for the Department of Transportation, and my brother Rasheen Connell [Lincoln University Class of 2001] was in graduate school at Howard University for physics.”
The Summer Bridge program had such an impact that he later completed two more engineering summer programs at Temple University and the University of Delaware.
Once he got to Lincoln he wasted no time making connections with professors who mentored him and taught him how to conduct and publish research.
As a student, he devoted his time to tutoring other students and conducting research under professors Semychayevskyy and Zeljkovic. Semychayevskyy, whose National Science Foundation research grant provided funding for Connell and Steele, also served as their academic advisor. Semychayevskyy also supervised both Connell and Steele’s engineering capstone projects.
In 2016 Ezra Connell co-authored a poster with his advisor at the 43rd Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Photovoltaic Specialists Conference titled “Degradation of polycrystalline Si solar cell efficiency with increased optical power: experiments and theory.”
With funding provided by a National Science Foundation/Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program, Connell presented a second paper at the Emerging Researchers National Conference titled, “Digital Imaging Processing and Analysis.”
He completed internships with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Florida Power and Light Company, and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing.
Connell joined several professional organizations, including the National Society of Leadership Success, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the National Society of Black Engineers, in order to better understand his degree field.
Connell started applying for jobs in the fall semester of his senior year of college even though he was already juggling 21 credit hours and two research projects. His hard work and persistence paid off with several job offers and scholarships for graduate schools, which he has put on hold to work at one of the world’s leading aerospace engineering companies.
“When I interviewed with Lockheed Martin, the hiring manager was very impressed with my mathematics background,” Connell said.
Connell said his “competitiveness, diligence, and integrity,” along with support from his family and friends, helped him finish his college degree.
Robert Langley, chemistry professor, echoed those reasons, saying, “He is a hard-working young man much like his brother, Rasheen. This is a testament to his work, dedication and preparation to enter the field of systems engineering.”
Tameze called Connell “conscientious” and “dedicated to his studies,” adding, “He is a true leader in every sense of the word who will advance the legacy of Lincoln University.”
Semychayevskyy, whose National Science Foundation provided research funding for Connell, served as his capstone project adviser.
“Ezra impressed me with his problem-solving skills, positive attitude, and progress toward his educational and professional goals,” Semychayevskyy said.
Article by Shelley Mix, Office of Communications & Public Relations