Rollercoaster Design Led Student to STEM
February 11, 2021
For Jaylan Parker, diversity is important, whether it be in engineering or at Old Dominion University in general.
"It is necessary that we see ourselves once in a while," she said.
Parker, a senior civil and environmental engineering major, double-minoring in applied mathematics and civil engineering technology construction, is from Portsmouth.
"In Portsmouth, most of all the powerful, strong, independent black women I knew were either nurses, teachers, principals, coaches or daycare workers," she said. "I had no physical model of the average engineer, never mind a black woman engineer.
"When we see ourselves in these roles we long for, it makes the journey seem possible and tangible," she added.
Parker said her mother played an important role in her view of diversity.
"Not many people are blessed to have a mother with forethought to push and motivate when no physical prize is visible," she said. "For those people, it is imperative that they see themselves or they would lose their will to continue, especially in a STEM major."
Parker's interest in engineering initially reflected her concern for affordable housing.
"Currently, my interests surround utilizing better materials in building more efficient and sustainable homes for low-income housing, and also using those materials to upgrade some of the older or poorly built schools in the 757 area," she said.
That interest in building infrastructure led her to civil engineering, which has structural engineering as one of its many branches.
It started with a love for roller coasters.
"Roughly around age 7, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up; I told her I wanted to build roller coasters," Parker said. "My mother explained that I would need to be an engineer to build roller coasters. My mind was settled on the spot - I would be an engineer."
Parker is grateful that her mother cultivated her interest and growth into STEM.
"My research into roller coaster designers later translated into wanting to build infrastructure that would serve my community," she said.
Parker's most memorable classroom experience at ODU came in a freshman engineering class.
"We were to build two projects simultaneously: a remote control-operated device out of PVC pipe and a boat out of cardboard. I was the head designer and builder of the cardboard boat," she recalled. "To work on that project from beginning to end made me even more passionate about engineering."
Learning about civil engineering inspires Parker to dream big.
"Right now, the last thing I want to do is to graduate and take a job just for the money and become like so many others working for a paycheck," she said. "I desire to be an active part of engineering. I want to participate in and eventually build on my own, something spectacular that will live on long after I'm gone and serve to help others."
Parker is making sure that other students see a role model as well.
She is a member of Batten College of Engineering and Technology's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, where she serves as the team-lead of the student subcommittee.
She also serves as the secretary and pre-collegiate initiative chair on the executive board of the National Society of Black Engineers and as secretary of Chi Epsilon, the National Civil Engineering Honor Society.
Outside of engineering, Parker has also been active. She is a former player on the ODU women's rugby team.
"I want to reach back and pull along those who are still growing and show them that this path is possible for any who choose to apply themselves," Parker said.