A nudge from her adviser and a great experience in an introductory engineering course kickstarted Walta Abraham’s Mizzou Engineering journey. Those early steps led her all the way to this weekend, when she’ll serve as chair of the National Society of Black Engineers’ Region V Regional Leadership Conference, hosted at the University of Missouri.
In between those two poles, Abraham has built quite the resume of accomplishments. She’s the current president of the Mizzou NSBE chapter, has served as an Engineering Ambassador, has been selected to secret society Mystical 7, earned her ACI Field Testing Grade I certification, has been chosen to do research as a McNair Scholar, has been active in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and was tabbed to serve as chair for this weekend’s leadership conference, among others.
“Because I always loved math and my adviser suggested I take Engineering 1000, I did. To my luck, I was exposed to civil engineering, did a lot of research and realized that I wanted to engineer commercial buildings,” Abraham recalled.
Before deciding on engineering, Abraham decided on Mizzou. The wide array of possible majors, opportunities to join a bevy of clubs and organizations and the diverse atmosphere made the University of Missouri her top choice.
“It was exactly what I needed in order to take the next step in my growth toward adulthood,” Abraham said of the diverse environment at MU. “What made this diversity even better was that everyone had the common goal of furthering their education and bettering themselves. I knew it was a community I wanted to be a part of.”
The path to becoming an engineer wasn’t always smooth. Women and African-Americans are among the most underrepresented groups in engineering in the U.S., so finding a sense of community and a support network initially proved challenging until a friend convinced her to tag along to a NSBE meeting. Through NSBE, Abraham found the support and camaraderie she was looking for as she worked toward her goal of becoming a civil engineer.
“I didn’t realize how amazing of a group I was joining when my friend dragged me along to my first meeting, but after that first meeting, I knew that if I continued to surround myself with people who faced the issues I faced, who also yearned for a sense of community and were motivated to empower those around them, getting through the engineering program would be more enjoyable,” she said.
Abraham’s NSBE experience was so transformative that she wanted to give back, and she decided to run for various leadership positions in order to make a positive impact. She first served as the programs chair before eventually being elected vice president, helping facilitate her fondest NSBE memory to date — taking more than 40 members to the NSBE National Convention last year in Kansas City.
“This moment warmed my heart knowing that the board had the power to expose so many members to an amazing and life-changing experience,” she said.
This year, Abraham was elected president of the Mizzou NSBE chapter and has set three primary goals for her term:
- Partnering with local schools to form a NSBE Jr. chapter to help NSBE’s goal of graduating 10,000 black engineers annually by 2025
- Increasing membership by at least 50 percent by the end of November
- Shifting Mizzou NSBE’s alumni network by utilizing Mizzou NSBE alums as reliable mentors for current members
Abraham also took on the additional duty of serving as chair of this weekend’s RLC and helped bring the event to Mizzou for the very first time. The event typically has been held in larger cities, and Abraham said having it in Columbia provides a wonderful chance to showcase Mizzou NSBE, the College of Engineering and the University of Missouri.
“Throughout the course of the conference, the College of Engineering will not only be exposed to collegiate and professional members, but to the pre-collegiate and NSBE Jr. members who are still deciding what college they want to attend,” Abraham explained. “This will be a great opportunity for Mizzou NSBE members to give tours of the college, especially with the help of the multiple Engineering Ambassadors in our organization.”
After graduation, Abraham said she wants to develop her own engineering business to focus on tackling a specific civil engineering issue globally, one she hopes to pinpoint through her research this year. And as she wraps up her undergraduate career, Abraham said she’s thankful for the impact both the College and Mizzou NSBE has had on her both personally and professionally. She explained that her experience with Mizzou Engineering “has been everything I hoped and more,” and was every bit as effusive with her praise of Mizzou NSBE.
“NSBE has truly made me a culturally responsible black engineer who is determined to excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community,” she said.