You gave your high school a 2018 graduation commencement speech. Describe the school/ community where you spent these formative years:
Public schools in NYC are tough with distractions beyond measure and resources being quite limited (much like most inner cities). I was fortunate enough to attend one of the few technical high schools in NYC and be a part of its first graduating class. The school offered a brand new facility, invested teachers and a distinct pride associated with being the first group to experience this learning environment—it is something that most schools in NYC unfortunately do not get. The neighborhoods around us were filled with crime and street activity, but inside those school doors felt like solace.
What was it like to speak in front of this group?
I was overjoyed when my HS Alma Mater requested that I be their 2018 commencement key note speaker. I knew this opportunity would not only be momentous for me, but also for my family and my former teachers – all of whom were cornerstones in my development. However, the graduates mattered most to me. I wanted to construct a speech that would resonate with them.
Let’s jump forward, how do black engineers face unique obstacles which people may be unaware of?
Corporations create roadmaps for “Diversity and Inclusion” within their work environment. However I’m not convinced that there is a genuine effort deployed toward creating (truly) diverse and inclusive working communities – It seems, to me, more like buzzwords. Like all other problems, I think it starts with creating a culture of accountability and addressing it head on instead of passively.
I love being black and I love being a black engineer – but the issue is bigger than just me. Corporations are not targeting black students for recruitment in the way that they are targeting other demographics. There is indubitably a lack of black engineers at major tech companies. This is why I work as hard as I do to mentor young students and urge them to pursue STEM.
What is the aim of the work that you do for these kids in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)?
My goal is to augment the number of inner city students who pursue STEM. It’s tough to take advantage of resources when you aren’t aware that they exist. There is no secret that there is a disproportionate population of black and latino men and women employed in STEM.
I incorporate STEM into outreach by working with organizations in NYC, Camden (NJ) and Philadelphia to introduce engineering as a viable career option to young students. We start from the basic understanding of engineering disciplines, to bringing them to my work environment for tours and introductions to the technologies that are driving our business. Additionally, I participate in youth robotics competitions and familiarize youth with the concepts behind emerging technologies. These kids understand that the proliferation of technology will be an asset for them.
What is something that these kids could benefit from ?
Over the years, having sound advice and engagement, from my parents and mentors, has benefited me, particularly in academia, my career and personal growth. Mentorship and forging relationships with young students (regardless of their career interests) is vital. I mentor a lot of young kids, ranging in age (from middle school to early professionals), and I have learned that being present and supportive will help propel them to their goals – even the goals they thought were unfathomable.
How did you progress down this path and do you think engineering has escaped its “nerdy” stigma?
My journey towards engineering began at my technical high school where I learned engineering principles at a basic level and developed an appetite for utilizing critical thinking to address complex problems. This led me to Binghamton University’s Watson School of Engineering, the National Society of Black Engineers, an internship at Sikorsky Aircraft, a master’s at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering and my current job in aerospace.
With technology at the forefront of the changing workforce, there is an inherent need for engineers. Further, I think it’s widely known that engineers go to school, get nice jobs with handsome salaries and get to be involved in really really cool things. I know, from experience, that engineers typically love being engineers, and that’s likely all that matters.
I am grateful for all that I have accomplished thus far. I still have dreams of being an Astronaut so let’s see how that goes. Wish me luck.
“Aside from being an Industrial Engineer from Queens, NY and working in the Aerospace industry, Lakim is one of the few people I instantly became friends with upon meeting. When he takes a break from being handsome (never) he’s weight training (often) and traveling the world. Lakim is a walking hallmark card full of golden quotes about life philosophy—he’s the kind of guy you’d want your son to grow up to be.” – Michael