KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 1, 2021
As a college freshman, Roneisha “Ro” Worthy admittedly didn’t know much about the field of engineering.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines weren’t an area of emphasis at her high school. A gifted member of her school’s debate team, Worthy had already set her sights on a law degree. However, shortly after receiving her acceptance to Tennessee State University, her guidance counselor reviewing her grades suggested that Worthy consider a future in engineering.
Worthy trusted her advice, and nearly two decades later continues to serve as a role model for underrepresented groups pursuing STEM degrees at Kennesaw State University.
“As I got deeper into engineering, I couldn’t believe how detached I was from this career while finishing high school,” said Worthy, an associate professor of civil engineering in KSU’s Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. “After my freshman year of college, I made it my purpose to make sure that any little girl I came in contact with knew what engineering was and how they could succeed in STEM.”
She started by managing the Summer Transportation Institute at Tennessee State, which promoted careers in transportation to middle schoolers, where she first noticed a “confidence gap” between the girl and boy participants. Throughout the summer program, Worthy made a point to remind the girls they had the ability to outperform the boys in each of their tasks, and they did. It was during that experience when she realized STEM advocacy could be her calling.
After her freshman year, Worthy took her advocacy to the workplace. While completing a cooperative experience with General Motors, she learned how to become an effective mentor and was taught to inspire women to pursue STEM by promoting the altruistic nature of engineering. Worthy, who would go on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tennessee State before completing her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University, joined KSU in 2014, where she serves as the faculty advisor for the student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
“Through these organizations, I have a platform through which I can reach out and inspire underrepresented groups,” said Worthy, who also serves as the national professionals chair-elect of NSBE. “If even one life changes based on their experience through these groups, it will have been well worth the effort.”
Incidentally, many lives have been affected by Worthy’s advocacy. Last year, she partnered with the KSU Women’s Resource Center and AmeriCorp’s Volunteers in Service to America to host a Pathways to STEAM Summer Camp, designed to provide opportunities for girls to explore topics specific to science, technology, engineering, art and math. The camp was offered free of charge and included more than 50 girls who wouldn’t otherwise receive this level of exposure, Worthy said. The engineering college also routinely partners with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Georgia Section to host the annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, which attracts nearly 500 attendees each spring.
“It is clear that the tremendous work that Dr. Worthy puts in on a regular basis pays huge dividends for our college,” said Ian Ferguson, dean of the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. “She serves as an excellent role model for women considering careers in engineering, and we couldn’t be more proud of her dedication to improving diversity in engineering.”
Reflecting on her journey from her freshman year of college to becoming a mentor to many, Worthy said she feels STEM advocacy is her life’s purpose.
“While it is challenging balancing this work with my teaching and research workload, every late night and weekend spent is worth the look of excitement and engagement on each girl’s face,” she said. “I continue to seek that look of discovery on a daily basis.”
– Travis Highfield
Photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.