Black History Month: Exceptional ECpE Students

Iowa State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is celebrating Black History Month with a series highlighting alumni, faculty and students. Click here for more Black History Month coverage.

Nichelle’Le Carrington, ECpE graduate student

From a young age, Nichelle’Le Carrington’s parents were adamant she and her three older siblings obtain at least one college degree. Now, Nichelle’Le has surpassed her siblings in education and is working on her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Iowa State University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) department.

Nichelle’Le grew up in Macon, Georgia, and completed her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. While she was at North Carolina A&T, Nichelle’Le was encouraged to look into graduate schools by her professors.

“One of my professors took me aside and said, ‘Pick a problem in your life you want to solve,’” Nichelle’Le said. “That’s the way I look at grad school. Growing up in Georgia there were a lot of thunderstorms that cause extended power outages, so I wanted to study power to prevent those outages.”

However, North Carolina A&T didn’t have a power program, and Nichelle’Le worried her lack of experience would hold her back from investigating the subject in a graduate program. She applied to the ECpE department due to a positive experience in Iowa State University’s Mechanical Engineering MoSAIc REU in her undergraduate years and the prestige of ECpE’s strategic research area of energy infrastructure. After receiving the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) Fellowship, a program to increase the number of underrepresented students obtaining graduate degrees in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—, Nichelle’Le made the decision to move 16 hours away from her family to study a direct Ph.D. program at Iowa State.

“The first semester was tough,” Nichelle’Le said. “I had to start from scratch in my studies, environment and research. A big thing in southern culture is community, and it took me a while to find that.”

In finding her community, Nichelle’Le helped form Graduate Organization of Electrical and Computer Engineering (GO-ECpE) and currently serves as president. She said she has developed immensely in her time at Iowa State and is dedicated to pushing herself further until she completes her Ph.D. in the next two or three years. She currently researches transmission and distribution of power systems under the advisory of ECpE Assistant Professor Zhaoyu Wang.

“I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve grown with interacting with diverse groups of people and learning my field,” Nichelle’Le said. “I think everyone should take the time to understand one another, especially since we have a very diverse [ECpE] department with representation from various countries.”

Nichelle’Le said she wants to also bring awareness to her own culture on campus to eliminate ignorance of Black culture. Black History Month is an opportunity for Iowa State as well as the ECpE department to celebrate black culture, and Nichelle’Le said this recognition is vital to ensure the development of black students at Iowa State.

“Although we are few, we are still your students,” Nichelle’Le said. “We should celebrate all culture holidays because we have such a diverse department and campus.”

Cimone Wright-Hamor, ECpE graduate student

Cimone Wright-Hamor’s decision to attend Iowa State University as an undergraduate was a last-minute change from her original University of Michigan aspirations. With an original plan to study accounting, an internship at Rockwell Collins prompted Cimone to change her major to computer engineering, and she enrolled in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE) department. Now, nearly eight years later, Cimone is working toward her Ph.D. in computer engineering and describes Iowa State as her network for support that has pushed her to realize her potential.

“Graduate school has made me develop myself as a person,” Cimone said. “I’ve realized my own worth, even in a monetary value. I have these assets, and I no longer have to guess what value I bring.”

Cimone’s research focuses are moving target defense, a concept where web servers are rotated randomly to prevent hackers from attacking systems, and authentication. She works as a research aid at Argonne National Laboratory in Ames designing moving target defense solutions, and said she plans to be a security consultant and do similar work for government organizations after completing her Ph.D.

While studying her undergraduate degree, Cimone was sent to do research in Taipei, Taiwan, with the assistance of ECpE Affiliate Associate Professor Morris Chang. She said this experience allowed her to engulf herself in the Taiwanese lifestyle and gain an understanding of a culture other than her own. This new perspective is something everyone should make an effort to find with people different from themselves, she said.

Because Iowa State’s campus doesn’t have a large number of Black students, Cimone said black culture is often misunderstood and misrepresented. She said black students can often feel a burden to represent the entire ethnicity if they are the only black student in class.

This is why Black History Month is important to celebrate, Cimone said. It recognizes the impact of black culture in the United States and the historical contributions made by black people that are not mentioned in history books.

“I wish more people would celebrate Black History Month because it is for everyone,” Cimone said. “I think we all should make an effort to step outside our own cultures and learn someone else’s.”