by Nicole Capozziello
Published May 16, 2019
Kennedy Colon is building a pipeline. While she’s a civil engineer, the pipeline she’s talking about is for students from disadvantaged and minority communities to get to STEM at UB – and succeed once they’re here.
“I want it to go as far back as kindergarten,” says Colon, who grew up in Buffalo. “But I realized that here, it needed to start freshman year.”
It is for her tireless determination and passion to fill this need that Colon is being celebrated as a “Defender of Potential” by the Big Brother Big Sisters (BBBS) of Erie, Niagara, & the Southern Tier. The award, presented at BBBS’s annual Mentors Who Move the City event on May 9, recognizes local community members for the impact they’ve made through their mentoring.
“Kennedy has done copious amounts of work to promote STEM fields to their ‘NSBE Jr.’ chapter and has implemented internal peer mentorship programs within NSBE, all of which strengthen multiple points of the education-to-career pipeline for underrepresented students,” says Chelsea Montrois, student affairs assistant.
During her years at UB, Colon has channeled her energy into helping others, as a member, and now president of the UB student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and through her work at the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP).
But for Colon it’s more than that – she supports at every level, directly uplifting fellow students through mentorship, actively fostering a culture of support within SEAS, and creating and nurturing partnerships with the greater Buffalo community.
“I just try to help in any way I can,” she says. “Sometimes classmates need a five-minute conversation to encourage them and I give them that. I know what they need to hear because I’ve been in their shoes.”
In addition to the challenges of making the leap from high school to the rigorous curriculum of a college engineering program, Colon says that minority students often lack support, particularly from people who have come from similar backgrounds.
“As a black woman engineer, there aren’t a lot of people that look like me in STEM,” she says. For everyone support and representation is important. And for some students who don’t get it, it’s just too hard, leading them to leave STEM for other majors or drop out entirely.
But Colon doesn’t believe it has to be this way, in part because it wasn’t that way for her. She attended Buffalo Public Schools, just like many of the kids she now does outreach to. And she was exposed to STEM in 5th grade through the same STEP program she now works with.
“Any category you can put me in within engineering –a woman, a minority – I’m rare. And once I figured out that there were so few of us, it motivated me. Every year that I get closer to graduating, I think, ‘I’m closer to being one of them!’”
Upon graduation, Colon will be moving to the Bay area, where she will be applying her engineering expertise to the construction industry. While she’s sad to leave behind her work at NSBE, she believes she’s planted seeds that will grow. Working in engineering, she now gets to be a face for the representation she lacked in her life, and mentor for those who follow. “It’s great that I’m graduating, but what’s even better is that I’m bringing people with me.”