Published April 3, 2017
by Christian Miller
Growing up, Dominique Hickson wished she could have met some STEM role models in her neighborhood, people who could have helped explain scientific careers and help her choose her own direction. But science professionals were largely absent from her community.
Nevertheless, Dominique decided to become an engineer during senior year of high school at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, N.Y. A first-generation college student, she transferred to UB after one semester at UMass Dartmouth "because of the low-cost in-state tuition and because UB is one of the top research institutions in the country."
At first, Dominique struggled and found herself unprepared for some of the difficult course material. Her application to the engineering program was rejected a heartbreaking three times. But Dominique's parents had taught her a quality that's invaluable in situations like this: persistence. "Anything you put your mind toward, you can accomplish it," she said.
Methodically, she strengthened her portfolio. "I got involved. Tutoring, research opportunities, support groups, student clubs at departments around UB," she recalled. Soon, good things started happening. She became a student assistant in the SEAS Undergraduate Office. She won a seat on the CSE Student Advisory Board. She also won the Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) 2016 summer research program best poster award for her work on autonomous mobile robot sensors with faculty member Karthik Dantu.
"Getting to know my professors helped a lot. They're phenomenal," she said. "The personal relationship definitely helped. I can come to them without any fear."
The fourth try was the charm, and Dominique won admittance to the engineering program in 2015.
Dominique will enroll in the MS program in Fall '17 to work with Kris Schindler in Augmentative Technology for the Handicapped. She intends to go all the way for her PhD, ultimately planning to teach computer science in low-income neighborhoods, such as at the community centers back home in Harlem. "I want to help at-risk students and be a role model. I want to increase the number of African-American men and women in engineering."
She's going to take home the message, "Hey, you can do this, too."