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Kendra Jackson Steps Up to Serve Her Fellow Black Engineers

Kendra Jackson stands in a hallway of the John D. Tickle Engineering building.

CEE major Kendra Jackson joined the UT chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) her freshmen year as a general body member. Now, in her senior year, she serves as its president.

“Being an out-of-state student, I felt like it was a great organization to meet other students who look like me and are also on the journey to get their engineering degrees,” she said. “The chapter has such a family oriented atmosphere that I became friends with so many people and learned how to move forward academically.”

Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Jackson, who has always excelled in math and science courses, graduated valedictorian of her high school. After participating in a summer internship her sophomore year in high school with Greater Cincinnati Water Works through the Student Intern Academy, she gained exposure to civil engineering in public utilities, which inspired her to choose CEE as a major.

“I participated in the program for the next two summers, working for these two years at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati,” she said. “My mentor here was a black woman named April Norman. She praised my work ethic and encouraged me to pursue a career in engineering and to get involved with the NSBE chapter at whatever school I attended.”

Within the Student Intern Academy program, mentors are supposed to get new students each summer, but Norman specifically asked to be Jackson’s mentor again.

“The following year I was given more responsibility in my role and introduced to programs like GIS,” said Jackson. “It was awesome to see a black female excelling as an engineer, and she along with my family let me know that I could do the same.”

Jackson wanted to get the full college experience by going out of state for school and researched colleges with well-known engineering programs. After applying and getting accepted she received an invite to participate in the Office of Engineering Diversity Program’s Breakfast of Champions event by Travis Griffin.

“Although I wasn’t able to attend I felt good knowing that diversity was important to the college and they wanted to recruit and retain minority students within the college of engineering.”

Jackson felt that NSBE was a great organization to join to meet other students who look like her and were also on the journey to getting their engineering degrees. After joining NSBE, Jackson was spotted as a natural leader, and by her sophomore year she was encouraged to join the board as the TORCH chair where she would plan different community service events for the chapter to participate in. During her junior year, she was the programs chair, responsible for planning everything from general body meeting to their Volunteer Networking Event where companies come and network with students the night before the Engineering Expo.

With insights gained from her years of serving on the executive board, Jackson felt that running for president during her senior year would allow her to implement new ideas in the chapter that she felt would benefit the group.

“I was nervous to step into the position but was glad to know that I had the confidence of the chapter when they elected me,” she said.

The chapter had such a family-oriented atmosphere that she made many friends and learned how to move forward academically.

“NSBE has helped me so much professionally and academically,” she said. “I am grateful that the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has been able to watch this growth and cultivate it as well.”

As NSBE president, Jackson heads up the Administrative Zone, which consists of the vice president, treasurer, secretary, programs chair, and parliamentarian. She also guides the chapter goals and visions and helps the different positions plan events that are beneficial to the general membership.

“My goals for this school year are to expand NSBE’s presence on campus, grow our chapter professionally so that we are prepared for internships, co-ops, and for full time employment when we graduate, and lastly, I want to increase our involvement in the Knoxville community and possibly start an NSBE Jr. chapter,” she said.

Élan Young: