This blog is part of a series for Black History Month to celebrate and share the stories of Black American manufacturing leaders.
I didn’t start out even remotely as part of the manufacturing ecosystem. I started my career at the nation’s first urban research park, the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was trying to complete my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. I finished all my coursework but had not completed my Ph.D. dissertation. In hindsight, that wasn’t the failure many seemed to think. Going to work at the Science Center led to the kind of career I had hoped for – one that combined my love for academics with real world activism.
The Science Center was an early economic development agency using science and information technology as its platform. I believe that economic development should be based on specific fields of knowledge, whether it is science and technology or housing and jobs. I started on the tech side, helping to design, code, and analyze databases for a longitudinal study of women and correlation with breast cancer.
Because it was an economic development organization, the Science Center became the chartering organization for a nonprofit tech investment firm and the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC). DVIRC was one of the early MEP Centers and is still part of Pennsylvania MEP and the MEP National NetworkTM. That was how I got involved in manufacturing.
I represented the Science Center, as a founding organization, on the board of DVIRC. I subsequently chaired the DVIRC board for 20 years and am now Chair Emeritus. In addition, I’ve served for many years on the national MEP Advisory Board, both as a member and as Chair. I am currently serving as Vice Chair of the national Board.
I have been privileged to see the dynamic growth of the MEP National Network. It has been exciting to see the increase in collaboration between MEP Centers across the country. We’re beginning to recognize manufacturing as a true ecosystem that has many touchpoints with other ecosystems.
One of those touchpoints is advanced manufacturing technologies. This is almost full circle for me since I started my career as a techie. I am taking a keen interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as the next leading edge in manufacturing. Additive manufacturing at some point is going to be as popular as ride-share apps. But I think AI is going to be ever-evolving – as humanity’s thinking evolves.
After all, humans will always be thinkers. We won’t give up on trying to find the next best thing, regardless of which technology is dominant at any particular time. This is why I always encourage young people, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, to pursue science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) studies and careers to fuel their aspirations. Someone will have to make their ideas tangible – that requires understanding the science behind an idea and the engineering it takes to make it work for the good of us all.