From STEM Star to Mechanical Engineer

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This post is part of a series in which we put the spotlight on Gold Award Girl Scouts and their achievements. 

Hadiya Harrigan, of the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, created a web development handbook, available online, that contains more than 20 lessons to help students and the public learn and MySQL. As a member of the Cincinnati Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) and a participant in the BDPA High School Computer Competition (HSCC), Harrigan understood the importance of developing a resource that is constantly updated and that keeps useful information about web development in a centralized location. As a passionate advocate for greater girl involvement in STEM fields, Hadiya hopes that her handbook will bring more girls and young women into the world of STEM and help bridge the STEM gender gap. She has since moved onto impressive work in mechanical engineering being utilized for medical applications. She received her Gold Award in 2014. CircleAround caught up with Harrigan to see what she is doing now.

CircleAround: For your Gold Award project, you produced a handbook to introduce students and the public to computer programming by learning and MySQL. Can you explain what these programs are and how they relate to web development? What inspired the project?

Hadiya Harrigan: is a framework in which one can create websites. MySQL is a database; one can add, modify, delete, and view data using SQL (Structured Query Language) commands. I initially developed the handbook to more effectively pass knowledge between generations of students participating in the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) coding camps. Since and MySQL are free, anyone can use the handbook to learn programming. 

CA: What do you think are some of the most common misperceptions about computer programming?

HH: Some think programming is too hard and frustrating. More people might actually enjoy it if they gave it a try. At first, I found programming to be confusing, but I stuck with it. Over time, I learned more and developed an interest in it.

CA: Can you share some highlights of your involvement with the Cincinnati Black Data Processing Associates? What are some advantages of being active with a technical professional society?

HH: The mission statement of the BDPA Cincinnati Chapter is “to build a pipeline of diverse professionals and aspiring students in the STEM and digital technology fields through innovative professional and technical development programs and activities.” Through working to fulfill this mission, BDPA has had a tremendous impact upon me and many others. My BDPA mentors have guided me, written letters of recommendation, and provided a paid high school internship. By participating in BDPA conferences, I was able to network with professionals, compete in the HSCC for four years, and win scholarship money to defray the cost of my undergraduate education. Additionally, BDPA teaches leadership and presentation skills: I served as the Cincinnati HSCC Project Manager for two years and presented on the “Internet of Things” at an IT Showcase Regional Competition in Cincinnati. I continue to keep in contact with the Cincinnati BDPA Chapter; recently, I spoke about my internships and graduate school research at a monthly chapter meeting and HSCC Saturday session. I am extremely grateful for BDPA, and I highly recommend that students join technical professional groups.

"The stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, George Washington Carver, and NASA 'Hidden Figures' inspire me. These Black heroes overcame great adversity, paving the way for myself and others."

CA: What are you up to now and have you incorporated any aspects of your Gold Award project into your current work/research? What inspired your interest in your research topic?

HH: I graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University in 2018, and I’m currently in a Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering at Duke University. I am studying computational mechanics; this allows me to combine coding with my mechanical engineering background. The goal of my current project is to use ultrasound data to classify cardiovascular health. During ultrasound, an acoustic radiation force pushes on an artery and the resulting movement is measured. A computational inverse problem can be solved to find the arterial stiffness, and high arterial stiffness is an indicator of atherosclerosis/cardiovascular disease. 

CAHave you faced adversity along your path? If so, what inspired you to keep going?

HH: Transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school was hard. I continually push myself to keep going, even if I do not do well on an assignment or it takes several tries to solve a problem. Having a support system of people that believe in me and what I am capable of achieving has also been important. Lastly, the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, George Washington Carver, and NASA Hidden Figures (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, & Mary Jackson) inspire me. These Black heroes overcame great adversity, paving the way for myself and others.

CAWhat advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM, but might be unsure of what field(s) is right for them?

HH: Try different things! Participate in a variety of experiences outside of school, like math camps, coding clubs, internships, etc. These can help you narrow down what you like to do.

CAHave you thought about what’s next?

HHI want to work in industry after I earn my Ph.D. Through internships at a consumer-goods company, I have been exposed to computational mechanics in product research and development. For example, the effects of forces placed on packaging during manufacturing need to be evaluated. There is more to the consumer goods manufacturing process than you might think!

Tags: Groundbreaking Women

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Written By

Faye Williams

Faye Williams is a cat lover based in New Jersey who enjoys traveling and spending time in nature whenever possible.  See Full Bio

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