Each year, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) recognizes the accomplishments of its members through the Golden Torch Awards, given to students, faculty, business leaders, and government officials for excellence in a variety of categories.
Kendra Allen, a doctoral student in the joint University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, has made a notable splash for the 2022 edition, earning recognition as both Mike Shinn Distinguished Member of the Year and Graduate Student of the Year.
“Because I am still in shock, it is difficult for me to convey my feelings,” said Allen. “I am so humbly grateful and blessed. Both awards are very special to me because I am a direct reflection of the mission of the National Society of Black Engineers which is to increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.”
Allen, is pursuing her degree in the Bredesen Center’s Energy Science and Engineering Program, which she found out about thanks to a chance meeting with then-Bredesen Center student Jessica Vélez at a National GEM Consortium conference in 2018.
She shared her goals for graduate school with Vélez, who told her about the interdisciplinary research done at the Bredesen Center, how it created opportunities to work with top researchers from both UT and ORNL, and how students are given a chance to explore entrepreneurship, public policy, or community outreach.
“I had already done a lot of work with NSBE and a Chicago-based organization, Target HOPE,” said Allen. “I was excited about being able to focus more on that while earning my doctoral degree.”
The Mike Shinn Distinguished Member award is given both as acknowledgement of the awardee’s active involvement in NSBE, community and campus impact, professional development, and to promote those who serve as model members for the rest of the society. It also aims to inspire the honoree to continue to develop their personal and professional skills.
While the graduate student of the year award also encourages active involvement with campus and community, it also has a strong emphasis on educational achievements, including having a minimum grade point average of 3.4, having works published, and having made an impact on their discipline.
In true Volunteer Spirit, Allen hopes her post-graduate work will make a positive impact on the world around her.
“My research focuses on developing the next generation of sustainable composites, while also optimizing their design during manufacturing,” said Allen. “If we can understand the materials at a fundamental level, we can deploy these materials for different applications creating boundless opportunities to assist in better serving our communities.”
Food shortages and homelessness are areas where Allen wants to make a difference, both in the US and beyond.
She noted that a fresh approach might be needed to combat those problems, and that she wants to tackle them from a fundamental level.
“Engineers are outstanding problem solvers that the world needs, regardless of that need being in my backyard or abroad,” said Allen. “I will be part of a team that makes a difference. I plan to merge my scientific skill sets and community involvement to develop innovative techniques and strategic approaches to solve complex problems that benefit society.”
In addition to crediting Vélez for encouraging her to attend UT, Allen was quick to acknowledge several faculty and staff members in the Tickle College of Engineering, including Fred D. Brown Jr. Director Travis Griffin and staff member Gabby Richards, from the Office of Engineering Diversity Programs; UT Senior Advisor for Research and STEM Workforce Development Initiatives and UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing Suresh Babu; Bredesen Center Academic Engagement Coordinator Allie Burns; ORNL Graduate Advisor Amit Naskar, and ORNL Research and Development Staff Member Logan Kearnery.