Engineering Inclusivity in STEM
Cadence Daniels is iridescent. She is the definition of poise. When the students at the National Society of Black Engineers Executive Board meeting address their leadership, it is clear they’re looking directly at Daniels for approval.
As their president, she listens attentively to their ideas and then talks them through a logical way to make those ideas a reality. She likes to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, and she’s transparent about the fact that she does not like when people are dismissive of or belittle another member’s ideas. When one board member interrupts another, she steps in to make sure that they can finish expressing their thoughts.
“Those are my babies — that’s my family,” Daniels said of the NSBE members. “How I like to put it is this: we try to get people to graduate, pass their classes and get a job at the same time, keeping you woke as possible in the process.”
At the end of each meeting, the group stands and recites its mission statement, which members must memorize. This mission statement stresses tenants such as increasing “the number of culturally responsible black engineers” who “positively impact the community.” It is apparent that Daniels is dedicated to following through with those standards, as she is passionate about elevating her peers, especially because black students are vastly underrepresented across all majors in in the Tandon School of Engineering.
“We do a lot of professional workshops, we take people to our conferences and we do academic workshops,” she said. “We work with high school and middle school chapters. And then we have more culturally aware events. We’ll talk about what does it mean to be black in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industry, or where issues are in the STEM industry right now.”
Rosa Batres, president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and close friend, emphasized Daniels’ commitment to NSBE and to the development of each individual society member.
“Cadence is very proactive in basically everything she does,” Batres said. “She takes it upon herself to partake in the development of NSBE members and ensures that everyone is always included. On top of that, she’s also a very loyal and supportive friend. She’s always optimistic, inclusive and looking to mentor others.”
A Tandon senior, Daniels studies Integrated Digital Media with a concentration in Interaction Design & Ethics in Engineering, while also minoring in Computer Science. Upon graduation in 2018 she will be joining the Digital Technology Leadership Program at General Electric Digital. She plans to utilize this new position as a way to increase diversity for minorities in STEM fields.
Daniels works to improve the status of female representation as well. As the co-founder of Women of Entrepreneurship, NYU’s first campus-wide student group for female entrepreneurs partnered with the Leslie eLab, she wants to transform women’s experience in technologically-based fields, while also educating others on the importance of understanding diversity — or the term she likes to use, “difference.”
Frank Rimalovski, executive director at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, can attest to Daniels’ calculated work ethic and her ability to immerse herself in communities of innovation at NYU.
“She’s a star,” Rimalovski said. “When she was a freshman she was just like how she is today. Her freshman year she volunteered for a Hackathon that was bitcoin-themed. I met her that night and I was really surprised to find out she was a freshman because she was so helpful and engaging. After that night, I suggested she get more involved in the Leslie eLab, which was new at that time. We were particularly interested in getting students from Tandon to form a bridge between the two campuses.”
Since then, Rimalovski and Daniels have formed a close relationship, as Daniels went on to intern at the eLab that same year. Rimalovski said that Daniels is present at the institute so often that people would think she lives around the block.
Daniels explained that her dedication toward making life easier for minorities stems from her upbringing as an African-American and Kenyan child.
“I come from an immigrant family,” Daniels said. “They moved here from Kenya very shortly before I was born. My mom was the oldest child, and they moved to Minnesota, which has a very high refugee population.”
She described her family as nomadic, moving around the United States to support each other throughout her childhood. She never attended the same school for more than two years, until coming to NYU. Because she considers herself not to be bi-racial, but rather to be multi-ethnic, Daniels noted that coming to terms with the two identities has been a lifelong process.
“It’s an immigrant thing,” she said. “What happens when you’re in a family that moves from a country and you start to raise your children, many things can decrease their level of authenticity to their culture. So whether or not you pass down the language, whether or not they are multicultural, whether or not they are born in that country, how often do they go back if at all. But if you don’t have any of those things, the old school people in the culture don’t necessarily accept you as one of them. They see you as the Americanized version.”
Ultimately, what is special about Daniels is her ability to merge her multiple creative and technological talents into bettering the world for people like herself. Daniels said that others looking to find their identity in society or trying to achieve similar accomplishments as a minority student must be patient.
“So many of us have childhoods to recover from, and patience in your recovery is a big,” Daniels said. “And I think the biggest one is patience with yourself.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 7 print edition. Email Maddie Howard at [email protected]