University of Minnesota Gate

Energy, equity, and education

CSE student uses her education to fix the problems she faced growing up

Growing up in Nigeria as a woman, Aduramo Lasode was expected to fulfill certain roles when choosing what to learn and which career to pursue. But she didn’t let those expectations stop her. 

Lasode, currently a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) and a recipient of CSE's Charles and Maryanne Lo Fellowship, studies energy and combustion technology, and energy policy development. She has been active in advancing educational equity since she was an undergrad in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Back then, Lasode tutored first-generation African American and Latinx college students in Prepare2Nspire, a STEM education outreach program in North Minneapolis. Her passion for teaching also extended to the North Star STEM Alliance, the University’s Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, and Harvest Prep. As an undergraduate, she earned the University of Minnesota’s Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity (SEED) award. Recently, she received the Graduate School’s 2020-21 Leadership in Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Fellowship.

In this Q&A, Lasode discusses why her studies are important and offers advice for other first-generation college students.

What does it mean to receive the Leadership in Equity and Diversity Fellowship?

I’ve started my dissertation year and the support is very important for me to be able to finish my research work. The other aspect is it really shows the importance of how I’ve engaged with the equity, diversity, and inclusion community. My focus is on education and energy, and coming from a mechanical engineering background, it hasn't been easy to combine those two. So, seeing that there’s an appreciation for the work that’s been done or what I’ve done in the past, gives me encouragement to keep going. 

Why did you choose the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota?

I started my undergraduate education in 2011 and I came from Nigeria out of high school. I got to know about the U of M from family friends who studied at the University in the past, so it was more like a referral from alumni. My interest in CSE grew because I saw the ranking of the school across the U.S. and I was specifically interested in mechanical engineering because it would give me the broadest set of skills and experience in the engineering field. That was what attracted me to specifically to the U. I was considering other schools in the U.S., but the quality of education for the value at the U of M was really high for me.

Why did you choose to study both energy and combustion technology, and energy policy?

Growing up, I came out of a developing country that had and still has some issues with access to energy. That was what prompted my interest in engineering in the first place. In my undergraduate education, I got experience with design and manufacturing, computer science, and all these technical courses and I couldn’t shake off the need to be in an applied area for energy. 

Eventually, my interest morphed to how to leverage technology and confrontational skills in very practical social issues like energy. Waste treatment is one that is applicable everywhere, which a lot of developing countries are having issues with. 

My research is looking into how to afford or provide affordable technologies that help improve access to energy in communities that need it in the world. Even in developed countries, there are still societies and communities in need of access to energy. As the world goes on, it becomes renewable energy. As I went through putting together my research, I came across the very strong, important issue that policy impacts implementation of all these technologies. Sometimes the innovation exists, but they can’t get it to where it needs to be because there is some restriction or context that is not allowing that to happen and that was when my policy interests came alongside my interest in access to energy.

Why are equity and diversity issues important to you?

Growing up in a culture different from the United States, there is a certain sense of what a person should be doing for their occupation based on their gender. I remember trying to say that I’m going for engineering because I see the value in that career field to make an impact. I wasn’t really encouraged because many people thought I should be in medicine.

As I came to the States and got familiar with the culture, I realized there’s a different atmosphere with race and there are so many issues that tie to equity. It’s not healthy when people project limitations on you. Being able to sympathize or empathize with that fact is important. It’s not in anyone’s best interest for issues of race and discrimination to abound or exist. That’s why I kept growing my commitment to helping people in need. I’ve identified with a lot of these communities because I’m black and female, and there are all these different things that go along with these identities. I really want to help move our communities forward.

How has classroom and extracurricular experiences at the U or CSE helped you become a better advocate or leader in equity and diversity issues? 

I think my experience at the U has given me room to grow. I would say that the passion and desire for advocating for equity and diversity issues existed before I came to the U, but it gave me an environment to explore and press into those desires. For example, my first experience was access to education with the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence. I was a tutor for people who needed help in math, physics, chemistry, and STEM courses. I saw students from diverse backgrounds who don’t feel comfortable approaching their professor or their teaching assistant. But when they come to the center, they feel like they have a very welcoming environment to engage with their coursework.

My experience with Prepare2Inspire within the North Minneapolis neighborhood came from a connection with a professor at the U. That connection flourished because of the environment I had at the U to be able to access these opportunities.

What advice do you have for students with underrepresented identities or first-generation college students?

If you have a passion or something that you believe in strongly, don’t let anyone’s projected limitations on you stop you from going for it. I have learned that the immediate people around you might not see the way forward, but the more you progress, search, and explore, the more you discover that it is possible. Secondly, don’t limit where you get your learning from. Along my journey, I have learned from non-traditional sources. Whether it came from education or experiences, tutoring, or teaching in a different way than what is traditional, it has helped me in the way I look at energy policy.

What do you hope to do in the future?

I really want to keep pushing to help increase access to quality education and energy. I’ve been drawn to consulting and looking at the public sector and organizations that have a more global focus. I have come to see that the wider the perspective of an organization, the more they are open to a lot of these social issues because they’re not restricted. When they look at a broader environment, a lot of cross innovation happens. That’s the type of environment I’m really excited to be in. As of now, I can’t give a specific company name or industry, but I do want to be working in renewable energy, public sector, and in a very challenging and diverse environment.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I do think it’s valuable and helpful to be conscious of health across the different parts of one’s life. Mental health, community health, emotional support—having that group or something that you hold onto that really helps you be grounded through challenges. For me, it's my faith. When I have a challenge and maybe I’m not getting the response I desire for an activity or coursework, my spiritual connection and my faith gives me an anchor. It helps with my mental health as well. The whole person matters even in a conversation about equity.

Q&A by Kathryn Richner


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