By David Goddard.
Each year, the National Society of Black Engineers 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 UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, has made a notable splash in the 2022 awards, 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 Jessica Vélez, then a Bredesen Center student, at a National GEM Consortium conference in 2018.
Engineers are outstanding problem solvers that the world needs, regardless of that need being in my backyard or abroad.”
She shared her goals for graduate school with Vélez, who told her about the interdisciplinary research done at the Bredesen Center, how it creates 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 as acknowledgement of the awardee’s active involvement in NSBE, community and campus impact, and 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 developing their personal and professional skills.
While the Graduate Student of the Year Award also honors active involvement with campus and community, it also has a strong emphasis on educational achievement, requiring a minimum GPA of 3.4, published work, and an impact on the recipient’s discipline.
In true Volunteer spirit, Allen hopes her postgraduate 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 abroad.
She notes 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 Travis Griffin, the Fred D. Brown Jr. director, and staff member Gabby Richards of 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.