Using the moniker of the 2016 American biographical drama, The Hidden Figures of Austin™ project is Austin’s photography and storytelling campaign that aims to promote achievements by local Black women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
As an organization charged with promoting the development of Austin Black economic ecosystem, the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce takes pride in amplifying the narratives of Austin's present-day Hidden Figures. Our goal is to collect a portfolio of compelling stories that extend a message of hope and heroism aimed at improving the experiences of Black women in STEM in Austin, Texas.
Our subjects span an array of professions, identities, and experiences ---Juanita Budd, Executive Director of Austin Free Net enjoys an infectious laugh in the moment of admiration as she tries to contain her bubbly personality to pose for a portrait ---- but they all have one thing in common: using their enthusiasm for STEM to empower their communities.
Women like Dr. Harovel Wheat remind us that Black women's labor and curiosity within STEM is in fact a career that extends into the depths of our history. Our curiosity for technology and innovation is sustained by our collective efforts to continue sharing these stories far and wide. With this devotion we are able to see Black women create new opportunities in technology that connect social impact and inclusion.
DR. COLETTE BURNETTE / LEARNING BACKWARD, LIVING FORWARD
"Ohio State University gave me the courage to move through my Engineering program. Returning to Ohio State was a safe space where they encourage you and say, ‘You can do this’. Despite some of the bad experiences I had with sexism, it grew me up. I would do it all over again with the same pain and the same disappointments because when you wrap it all together it was an experience that taught me you can go out, you can be a woman in this male-dominated field and you’re going to do a good job."
Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, joined Huston-Tillotson University as President and Chief Executive Officer July 1, 2015. Dr. Pierce Burnette is an experienced leader in higher education with a deep commitment to student success. Her experience includes serving as interim President at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington; the Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio; Vice President for Information Technology and Services and Chief Information Officer at Central State University; Dean of Information Technology at Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington; and Manager of Consulting and Project Management Services at the Washington State Department of Transportation in Olympia, Washington.
Before transitioning into higher education, Dr. Pierce Burnette worked as a Computer Analyst at The Washington Post, was an Operations Support Engineer at Proctor and Gamble, held the position of Director of Information Systems at Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., and ran her own computer consulting firm, CompuMent.
Locally, Dr. Pierce Burnette is a member of Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), the steering committee for My Brother’s Keeper, and serves on the advisory council of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. She also sits on the board of directors of Girl Scouts of Central Texas, Leadership Austin, and the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. Nationally, Dr. Pierce Burnette serves on the Minority Engineering Advisory board for The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, the National Council of Negro Women, Puyallup Area Aging in Place Coalition, Texnikoi, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., to name only a few.
JUANITA BUDD / I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST
Juanita Budd serves as the Executive Director of Austin Free-Net and is responsible for the strategic vision of direct delivery of programs and services. She drives forward the organization’s mission to eliminate the digital divide. Since her tenure, she has collaborated with over 30 organizations to educate and improve broadband adoption and digital literacy programs. Ms. Budd holds a BA in Political Science from Bucknell University; HR Management Certification from the University of Texas at Austin; is a certified Mediator through the Dispute Resolution Center; and received her Certificate in Texas Nonprofit Leadership & Management Program in 2008.
"Tech and STEM were not my original forte, but because our society is digital by default we needed so desperately to understand the power of technology and the tools of making sure our community had the same access as other communities.
We have to educate people and let them understand what tech is so we created a program called Techno Women. Its a program aimed to introduce more women to opportunities within tech in hopes of securing a stable career.
So the first question was “If you could do better would you do better?
Are you engaged in technology?" 'No.' "Are you scared of it?” 'Yes.' Then you’re the perfect candidate.' We take them through a 32-week course which typically takes an average person about 13 weeks to complete. We wanted to ensure that they didn’t have to go home and do homework, that they were able to read the books in class, do all the testing, etc."
"Not all the women made it through the class but we did learn that they had the desire. So many of these women received their IT certification and we had course superstars who were able to land $45,000 to $60,000 jobs. And these are women without degrees, some with GEDs, but the possibility of having a stable lifestyle without having to go through the residency, I was like 'oh, this is it.'
“I want young girls and women to know that you can do anything, anything, anything. Don’t let the title scare you. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
TASHA MCCARTER / SELF-DETERMINATION
Tasha McCarter is currently a Development Project Manager with SunPower Corporation, an international Solar Plant Developer. She is also majority owner of Adaptive & Efficient Design Services, LLC, an architectural and engineering firm focused on sustainability consulting services to clients in the Design and Building Industry. Tasha is a Licensed Professional Engineer and a Certified Project Management Professional. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Tuskegee University and completed an MBA at Michigan State University.
"When I was in third grade I had a science teacher named Ms. Barrett. I'll never forget her name or her face. She was an excellent science teacher who happened to be a Caucasian woman teaching at a predominantly Black school in Detroit. One day, we did an experiment in class where we hooked up wires to a hand generator and a light bulb and as we would crank the generator, the light bulb would begin to illuminate. I just thought that was so awesome! I thought to myself: ‘How can you generate light by connecting wires to a generator?’ That experience really resonated within me. Sooner or later I learned the word engineer. Coming from a blue collar background, my family really didn't know anything about engineering, but my Mom started planting seeds in my head. My mother said, okay, you loved that experience so much, we’re going to start putting you in settings where you’re getting exposure to that. And so she was very deliberate in trying to get me in spaces that kept exposing me technical subjects. I eventually went to a Cass Technical High School and by the time I hit 10th grade I knew I was going to be an Electrical Engineer."
In addition to her professional career, Tasha is passionate about issues that impact Women and People of Color. She is an active member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. an organization whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for women and their families. She is a Professional Mentor with TECHWomen, a Global STEM initiative of the US Department of State, and has served on the Executive Board of the Austin Chapter of the National Black MBA Association. Tasha is currently a member of Leadership Austin c/o 2017.
DR. HAROVEL WHEAT / LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
Originally from Sulphur Springs, Texas, Dr. Harovel Grays Wheat moved to Austin to accompany her mother as she pursued a degree from the University of Texas in 1958. After graduating cum laude with a B.A. in Chemistry from the University of Colorado in 1969, Wheat worked for Marathon Oil Company as a Technical Information Specialist. She married Dan Wheat in 1970 and was married until 1990. She received her M.S. in Metallurgy from the University of Denver in 1974 and worked as a Research Associate in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Colorado State University until 1975.
After receiving her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin in 1985, she became a Research Associate in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the university and later joined the faculty in Mechanical Engineering in 1986. She was awarded the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award in 1989, the Department of Mechanical Engineering Teaching Award in 1991, the Banks McLaurin Fellowship in Engineering in 1991, and the Faculty Excellence Award in Mechanical Engineering in 1999. In 2001, she was appointed Associate Chair for Academic Affairs, and in 2004 she was appointed Faculty Advisor in Mechanical Engineering. Her research focuses on corrosion of structural materials, particularly steel-reinforced concrete in salt-containing environments and aluminum and copper metal matrix composites. Her research interests also include environmental degradation of polymer composites, corrosive properties of grouts and fuels; chemical aspects of laser sintering processes, and smart coatings.
ANNETTE BOOKER / FORTITUDE
Annette Booker is an award-winning Process Integration Engineer at Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS) and advocate for women and girls in STEM. She is also a board member for Women In Technology at Samsung (WITS) which focuses on empowering and engaging young girls through STEM activities and networking opportunities for women within the organization.
Born and raised in Virginia, Annette received her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Norfolk State University’s esteemed Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Science (DNIMAS) program where she was a Gates Millennium Scholar and Mickey Leland Department of Energy Fellow. She went on to earn her Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Virginia Tech, dually recognized as a Pratt Fellow and Graduate School Dean’s Minority Fellow.
Annette’s approach to success is similar to her approach in the semiconductor industry: focus. As the product of a single parent household, Annette decided at a young age to direct her attention towards technology after developing a passion for science during a visit to the planetarium. Her mother, Toleda, provided additional opportunities for growth and development within the scientific fields by often pairing Annette with her older sister, Burthia, for engineering camps, seminars, or other adventures.
After more than 10 years at Samsung, Annette knows what truly drives the success of a process or product –and it’s not just understanding the intricacies of complex processes. It’s how well you coordinate and focus your team towards a common goal while providing the opportunity for innovation along the way. Annette’s unique mix of engineering aptitude, organizational skills, and leadership has gained her access to multiple cutting-edge device transfers and leading her own staff.
In addition to her leadership roles at Samsung, Annette continues to serve her community as an active member of the Austin Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. as well as an ongoing volunteer at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
DEVANNE PENA / OUR PERSPECTIVES REALLY MATTER
Devanne Pena is a registered architect at Page in Austin, Texas. She has resided in Austin for 3 years, though she started her architectural career in Laredo, TX in 2012. Devanne strives to articulate her career by expanding the spaces for people of color in architecture by representation, advocacy, and mentorship.
Devanne graduated from North Carolina State University in 2011 and again in 2012 with a Bachelor of Environmental Design and a Bachelor of Architecture. She is an active member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, where she served as Assistant Editor of NOMA magazine, a biannual print-publication, from 2013-2015, then Editor-in-chief from 2015-16. In 2016, she was elevated to Emerging Leaders Fellow by the American Institute of Architects.
Devanne has marked her career thus far by obtaining a diverse background in design, education, and construction project management. Her favorite part of design is the pre-design phases and building relationships with clients. She has experience in designing affordable, market rate, and high end residences, religious, civic, higher education, healthcare, and commercial architecture.
"Many women want to impact lives by providing care through their chosen professions. Historically, for example, we’ve been guided to careers in teaching, nursing and the social sciences for that same reason. I want women and girls to know that there are opportunities for personal and social impact through STEM. We look at STEM careers as very sterile sometimes and architecture may be a solution for those interested in impacting underserved communities through good design."
KIZZY LEJAY / LET YOUR SUCCESS BE YOUR NOISE
Kizzy LeJay is an Electrical Principal Engineer with Dell Incorporated in the Rugged Mobility division. She received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Prairie View A&M University. Kizzy received a fellowship from the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science to obtain a MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Purdue University. Her career began as a Quality Engineer with the Central Intelligence Agency. After completing her graduate studies, she became a Design Engineer at Apple Inc. working on products such as the MacBook Pro and Airport Express with AirTunes. The National Women of Color Technology Awards and Conference have recognized Kizzy as a Rising Star in Technology. She enjoys being of service to others. She is a member of local civic and professional organizations, including Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, The Links, Incorporated, and National Council for Negro Women, Incorporated.
KIJANA KNIGHT-TORRES / PROVE YOUR VALUE
Kijana Knight-Torres is the Community Insights Strategist at the Design Institute for Health at Dell Medical at UT Austin. She is focused on improving the human experience through empathy, strategy, and design. Throughout her career, she has worked to enable people to live their best lives. Her approach includes deep listening and observation of people in their natural habitats, comprehensive synthesis, and telling compelling and engaging stories. Kijana believes that doing the work to build compassionate connections can empower people to help themselves and each other in meaningful ways. She has helped a variety of companies and organizations, large and small, form successful human-centric design strategies. Kijana has a B.S. in Computer Science from Rice University and a M.S. in Information Studies from UT Austin. Prior to Dell Medical School, she was the Director of Insight and Strategy at Idean and Principal User Experience Researcher at projekt202.
“I’m originally from Houston. My neighborhood growing up was filled with NASA brats because we were in proximity to the Johnson Space Center. My dad and several of my friends’ parents worked at NASA, so I think that’s where I got my curiosity for all things science and tech. My school district received a lot of sponsorship from NASA and other science organizations so we breathed things like space camp and science fair. Since my father was an engineer, he encouraged me to dig deep into science and fostered my excitement for learning about the natural world. When I started college, I wanted to be an architect because I always had an affinity for buildings and design, but I didn’t really know what an architect did. That’s when I ventured into the world of computer science. After a while, however, my love for logic expanded into a curiosity about how people approached and dealt with technology. Since then, my life’s work has been to sweeten the interaction between humans and the systems we put to work for us every day."
DONNA CARTER / PERSEVERE
DONNA D. CARTER, FAIA is President of CARTER DESIGN ASSOCIATES, an architectural, planning and restoration firm in Austin, Texas. Her practice is focused on projects combining revitalization, historic preservation and new construction within a complete communities context.
Donna is a Registered Architect and Interior Designer and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. She completed her Masters of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. She holds a B. A. from Yale University. She was a Ford Foundation Scholar at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Her professional affiliations include the Association of Preservation Technology, the Construction Specifications Institute, the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Architects.
"I have several specialties. Preservation is very important to me. A culture cannot truly understand, value or go on in the future without having some understanding of the past. But is simpler than that. Our history – African American history -- is very much past denied. We often don’t know where we are from individually or before we forcibly brought to this county . Our history in this country should not be similarly lost.
This is not easy to do. Much of our history is a painful story, which also led us to try to forget, or bury it somehow within the mainstream history. Preserving our buildings and our material culture through architectural restorations and archeological endeavors is very important. It is much harder to destroy something that you feel belongs to you. Our past needs to belong to us, so that we can plan adequately for our future.
This leads to the next part of my specialty, which is urban design and community planning. I try to understand what makes our communities our own, what are the design elements that make us comfortable and incorporate them into the final design. All of this has to do with working with people and groups (often non-profits or community based organizations) that do not ordinarily get services from an architect. I try to make what we do, and the product that we deliver accessible to everyone. Although my interest was borne of a desire to document the material culture of the African American experience, this relates to all cultures. The values discovered and articulated become the fabric that connects all people."
SYDNEY HARDWICK / PUSH YOUR UNIQUENESS
Sydney Hardwick is a student of people and culture. She is a native of Chicago, IL and moved to Austin, TX about two years ago to begin working with Visa, Inc. as a User Experience Analyst and Researcher. Sydney is passionate about making products easy to use and inclusive for all, uplifting our communities, and sharing deliciously healthy recipes on her food blog - CookingwithSydney.
As a User Experience Researcher and Analyst, Sydney strives to influence and create products that are inclusive for all through interaction design, accessibility auditing, and extensive user research. In UX Research you study the way a person's culture can heavily influence their perspective of the world and hope to always be able to find the points of intersection where communication can be accomplished almost universally.
Sydney is a strong advocate of underrepresented communities in STEM becoming represented in the workforce. She currently serves as a co-chair for Visa Black Employees (ViBE) Austin - an employee resource group whose mission is to support our communities while attracting, recruiting and retaining diverse top talent.
Cooking with Sydney was created out of a love for sharing recipes and tips while cooking with friends and family. There is something magical about the way you can transform a simple list of raw ingredients into the foundation of a lovely afternoon with family, a great night catching up with friends or an enriching exploration in the development of regional and cultural flavor profiles.
Sydney graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL where she received her Bachelors in Information Technology and Management and a minor in Communications.