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She's a pioneer, changing the face of STEM at NC A&T

From industry to academia, Dr. Stephanie Luster-Teasley aims to diversify the STEM student body and staff at the largest HBCU in America.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Teachers make an impact. At some point, we all can reflect on a teacher that did something or said something that helped push us into our purpose. 

In fact, the woman featured on this week's "Mo on the Go" was inspired by a teacher, worked in the engineering industry, and then returned back to the classroom to become a woman similar to the one she was inspired by.

"I did not run across any women in engineering when I was here at A&T for my undergraduate," said Dr. Stephanie Luster Teasley, the Undergraduate Education Vice Provost.

Years later, Luster-Teasley is changing the face of STEM at North Carolina A&T. So, Meteorologist Monique Robinson was so intrigued by Luster-Teasley's accomplishments that she sat down with her for an interview.

"Oftentimes, people assume, when you are attending a historically black college or university that, 'Oh, all the professors are more than likely African-American, but in this case, it's not so true?'" Robinson asked.

"Right, it's not true," Luster-Teasley said. "Majority of our STEM programs are not African American."

Luster-Teasley said more minorities are needed in these fields to diversify the industry and inspire others.

"In elementary school, I got excited about science because I had an African-American female science teacher that made it seem really interesting and something that a woman could do," Luster-Teasley said.

She said that's where her passion started.

"I'm a teacher at heart and I wanted to come to an HBCU after being in the industry for a little while," Luster-Teasley said. "I was an environmental engineer for two years at two different environmental consulting firms and [then] came to A&T in 2004 and fell in love with teaching."

She spent the last 15 years in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering as a professor and department chair, before moving into her new role as the university's undergraduate education vice provost.

"I was the first African-American woman at A&T to have three patents including two that are international, so I have a US, UK and a Canadian patent for a water treatment technology," Luster-Teasley said. 

Luster-Teasley said she isn't the only Teasley on campus making an impact in STEM departments.

"My oldest is a graduate here in computer science and he actually finished his B.S. degree here," Luster-Teasley said. "My youngest is a junior in industrial engineering and I brought them into the lab so they can see mom is balancing work and teaching and she is in the lab. They were there when I came up with my patent, so they really saw and they were inspired by what I did so I think they have a different perspective on women in STEM." 

She said few women are able to stay on this journey-- balancing being a caretaker and professor, but the program she co-founded, 'Girls in Science Lab,' was her key to success and success of hundreds of others.

"We brought in middle school girls to work in our labs to learn how to use the different types of equipment our same college students are using to solve cases," Luster-Teasley said.

Now, she sees some of those same young ladies on campus earning STEM degrees.

"When you come up with a project or idea, you never know if it is going to be successful," Luster-Teasley said. "Just knowing for three years, we had these young ladies coming in to see us every summer and seeing them say, 'Yeah we can do this.' And now they are becoming chemists and engineers. It's just so rewarding."

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