February 23, 2021


February is Black History Month, an annual celebration recognizing Black Americans who have made remarkable contributions in their profession and community. The Division of Information Technology is paying tribute to Texas A&M Professor of Engineering, Dr. Tanya Dugat Wickliff. Dr. Wickliff has over 20 years of experience in consulting, supply chain optimization, project management and manufacturing, and is also known for mentoring her students and in organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). 

We asked Dr. Wickliff to share her perspective as a black female engineer and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. 

What does being Black in STEM mean to you? 

Being Black and in STEM is very important to me because I believe that STEM proficiency can be — and has been — a game-changer for our country and even this world.

As an engineer, I have been blessed to travel the majority of the United States and more than a dozen countries around the globe for work primarily in the semiconductor and oil & gas industries. I continue to consult and hopefully add significant value to the individuals and entities with which I engage. I am most excited about the opportunity that I get as a professor of engineering practice and mentor to help shape bright minds in STEM here at Texas A&M University.

I would love to see more Black students and help to guide them, as there is not as much diversity in STEM higher education and I know from experience that it matters. I have had the very rare privilege to mentor and guide my youngest son, Dr. Cortlan J. Wickliff, Esq., through his Ph.D. program in Engineering here at TAMU. I was beyond excited to be among the few parents/professors who was able to hood my son at his TAMU graduation in which he was also the graduation commencement speaker.

I believe in the value of STEM and, as a personal/professional goal, I plan to continue to influence, encourage, mentor, and positively impact students in STEM.

Why is diversity in STEM important to you?

When I reflect on my academic journey as an undergraduate in engineering, it was a very lonely one. There was minimal diversity in the student body, particularly in my upper-level courses. Even worse, throughout my entire STEM college experience, I have never had a black or brown professor. I had challenging family circumstances and did not feel comfortable approaching my instructors.

One semester, I finally mustered up the courage to approach my thermodynamics professor and he did not even hear me out. All I wanted from him was help on a thermodynamic problem. He sternly passed judgment with words that would fuel me through my Ph.D. in engineering. He told me to reconsider my career objectives because I was not engineering material. I left his office dejected, but determined. He never listened to my family obligations — the sick grandmother I was caring for or the job I was required to work to help sustain my family — which did not allow me to attend scheduled help sessions.

I feel a more diverse professor, with a diverse background, may have been a better listener. So to get the support I needed, I joined a learning community that spanned the southwest region of the U.S. The students and mentors of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) helped to guide me so I later became a Lifetime Member of NSBE and I am committed to paying it forward. 

How have you seen diversity and inclusion change in your field? 

Personally, I have seen diversity and inclusion changing some in STEM overall. The amount of diversity and inclusion observed has varied significantly depending on the region, industry, and especially the level of the position.

However, with more people from diverse races and ethnicities choosing careers in STEM, I have encountered a few more people of diverse backgrounds in the workplace.

With significant experience in engineering, business management, entrepreneurship, consultancy, training and development, motivational speaking and higher education, I have noticed that often, the more specialized and technical my scope of work, the less diverse my associates are.

This tells me that we, as a collective, still have significant work to do in the area of diversity and inclusion in STEM.