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An Engineering Professor's Journey to Success

Rosalind Wynne

Rosalind Wynne is an Associate Professor with tenure at Villanova University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Wynne is committed to excellence in teaching, fundamental research, service to the technical community, and the generation of scholarship in students. Her teaching style integrates aspects necessary for the development of scholarship in students: technical excellence, professional conduct and service to society. Dr. Wynne's research interests are in developing fiber optic sensors based on microstructured optical fiber technology for chemical sensing and biomedical applications.

Dr. Wynne received her doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Boston University in May 2005, a B.S. in Physics from Norfolk State University in 1999 and a M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Boston University in 2001. She is a member of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). She has received a number of honors and awards for her research contributions including the 2005 Boston University College of Engineering Dean's Award, the 2004
Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships Dissertation Award, the 2004 SPIE Educational Scholarship in Optical Science and Engineering and the ONR/ HBECU Future Engineering Faculty Fellowship in 2001.

Outside of the lab, Dr. Wynne enjoys cooking, dancing, martial arts and learning to fly airplanes.

Q: What or who inspired you to go into a science and engineering?

Wynne: There isn't a single event or moment that inspired me. It has been more of an evolutionary process, where numerous people have made contributions to nurture my organic interest in science and engineering. I don't know exactly but, at home, I loved TV shows like Mission Impossible with Greg Morris. MacGyver was cool too but the original Mission Impossible was the best! I loved watching my dad fix things (i.e. the plumbing in the house, the compressor in the refrigerator and changing spark plugs in the car). I loved learning how things work so, I could use that knowledge to build bigger play-forts for my siblings and make things go "pow!"

Q: What was the single-most difficult challenge you faced in your journey to become a professor and how did you overcome it?

Wynne: The competitive nature of the discipline can make the experience difficult. There are all sorts of social pressures and shaming that happens in the academic world that denies one's humanity; that makes failure unacceptable. This can have very negative effects. How can you grow and get better in a discipline if you don't recognize limitations? Then there are very little formal or informal mechanisms to address limitations. This results in isolation. I was fortunate to have lots of friends during my academic journey that could relate to the experience of isolation. We created our own informal mechanisms to support our growth. External mentors also stepped in to supplement the support. This support system has persisted and remains in place to this present day.

Q: What part of your career do you enjoy the most?

Wynne: My independence. I have the freedom to develop my own ideas and then build facilities and employ personnel to realize them. The best part is when these new ideas support fundamental concepts and theories. Then you can translate the research to the classroom and get a new generation of engineers hooked!

Q: What advice would you give to a young African American or Latino student in college who is trying to decide on whether or not to pursue a career in a STEM field?

Wynne: It's ok not to know something. Shaming either self-induced or external is not helpful. Be gentle with yourself, assess what you need for support and find resources to meet those needs. Be sure to reward yourself no matter how small the achievement. Here are some tips for working through your challenge areas: 1) Identify your challenge area without self-judgment. Do: I need to work on solving differential equations. [Don't: I can't solve differential equations, I am weak and I must not belong in STEM ...] 2) Find someone that you trust that has strengths in your challenge area and work independently with them until you get stronger. 3) Find a group of cohorts with similar interests/aspirations that can empathize with your experience and meet regularly. It is important to share your experiences with each other the good and the bad. Human beings are wired for connection. In the absence of love and belonging there is suffering. Isolation = a slow painful death of hope.

Q: : In simple words, how would you describe the type of research you do and its importance?

Wynne: The Laboratory for Lightwave Devices is home to educational laboratory exercises for undergraduate and graduate courses in addition to research activity related to fiber optic sensor development. Students can gain an intuitive understanding for the fundamental theories of optics and experience hands-on training on industry relevant equipment. Our research interests are in developing fiber optic sensors based on microstructured optical fiber technology for chemical sensing and biomedical applications. Microstructured optical fibers are an alternative to the standard cylindrical shaped optical fiber waveguide. These fibers can be used either as transmission fibers or as sensors.

Q: If you were not a university professor, what other type of career do you think you would have been attracted to and why?

Wynne: In an alternate reality, I would be working as a research engineer in industry (Corning) or research laboratory (JHU APL) or as a ballerina! My career decision was significantly influenced by my high school experience. In Brooklyn, NY there were specialized city high schools (which were thought to be better in quality) that you needed to test or audition to gain admission or you would be zoned to your neighborhood high school (to suffer a lesser quality education and a lot of violence). I tested into 3 specialized high schools. Two of the schools had a focus in science and the other school was for the performing arts. I chose one of the science focused schools and the rest as they say "is history..."

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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)