Why Engineering: Chanel Richardson

Chanel Richardson

Chanel Richardson combines her major in computer engineering with extracurriculars that take her into local classrooms as well as the upper atmosphere. She is a STEM Ambassador, chosen for a program run by the Center for STEM Diversity that brings engineering into local high schools, and she’s president of the Tufts chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), where she’s enjoyed building prototypes of weather balloons. A member of the National Society of Black Engineers, she credits a computer science class at her high school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with kindling a fascination for a profession where she could someday build, design, and control technologies with real-world impact.

Over time my interests in engineering have continually evolved. At first I was focused on 3D printing; I thought that I wanted to make 3D printers for the rest of my life, and I made my dad buy me a ton of books on it. By the time I entered college I thought I’d make video game consoles, but then I discovered there’s a lot I can do with engineering; that made me want to explore. I realized I didn’t have to limit myself to one thing. The one thing that’s constant is that every time my interest changes, it just falls into the world of engineering. I think that’s why I’m excited about being an engineer: it has so many different possibilities. Even if I change my mind, I’ll still be able to do something really cool.

My advice to younger students thinking about engineering is that you might have to be annoying about it! When I was in high school, my parents didn’t know anything about engineering and I just told them over and over again: this is what I want to do. One of the biggest things I did for myself was to look up an engineering professor at Wake Forest University, which is about five blocks from my house. I wrote asking if I could come talk with him. He said yes—and he also introduced me to his students. That experience really opened my eyes; I didn’t even know about computer engineering before I met him.

One thing about Tufts that appealed to me was that I could take engineering classes and still hang out with people who aren’t engineers. I could never imagine going to a school where the only people I talk to are engineers. If my non-engineer friends are intrigued about what I’m doing, that forces me to think about what I’m doing and explain it so they understand. And it’s great to hear their different perspectives as well. Those conversations have really shaped who I am, and I think they will make me a better engineer, whatever I decide to do.

This excerpt is from "Why Engineering? We Asked Five Women" by Laura Ferguson, Tufts Now.