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HBCU grad says Black STEM professionals are seeking guidance in this area


Aknesha Miller’s journey from living with her grandparents to working at a company with global reach illustrates the importance of career guidance and the need to stay in STEM.

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It’s a smoky moment, tucked away in a softly lit corner of the Executive Cigar Lounge in central Melbourne. But for several Black engineers who work at L3 Harris, Boeing and other science and technology-based companies, it’s a place not just to unwind or talk business, but also to share notes and give advice.

And right there sits Aknesha Miller, watching the football game on a big screen TV.

Miller is a graduate of the historically Black college Morgan State University in Maryland and senior vice president of operations at Arkel International, a global infrastructure and engineering services company.

Miller’s journey from living with her grandparents in Maryland to working at a company with global reach illustrates the importance of career guidance and the need to stick with STEM despite the challenges.

“I just happened to have some good people in my life,” Miller said. “That and going to Morgan State was really key, that gave me the foundation for what I learned.”

Raised by her grandparents, Miller was initially placed in a special education class until someone recognized that she was gifted rather than disabled.

“I got into fights and wasn’t paying attention,” said Miller, who later became a member of MENSA International, the organization for people with high IQs. “What actually happened was that I was bored and needed challenges.”

Then came the strategic choice to study technology at a small university – Morgan State – where she could get the attention of the instructors she needed to stay focused. There, Miller learned to thrive through reaching out. Statistics show that a third of all black engineers graduate from historically black colleges like Morgan. In 2021, 6,153 engineering degrees were awarded to Black graduates, a 20.5% increase over the number of degrees awarded in 2018, according to the National Society of Black Engineers.

All of this – the schools, the mentors – helped her move forward, including among others who were not used to seeing black faces in technical spaces.

Once, on her first day at L3 Harris – a leading defense contractor and high-tech company headquartered in Melbourne – as general manager of the F-35 fighter jet Avionics program, a security guard approached her and told her to move her car . .

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“In his defense, he hadn’t seen anyone there who looked like me. I had to prove my job,” Miller said, now laughing about the moment.

“I was walking to the door when the officer said, ‘You can’t park there, that spot is for executives.’ I told him, ‘Yes, I am.’ All you can do is laugh. There weren’t many of us then, but there are now.”

It’s a story Miller enjoys sharing, whether in a cigar lounge or over the phone. Miller emphasizes the importance of finding mentorship for Blacks and other minorities entering the STEM workforce for that extra guidance and relationship building. That means building rapport, having a conversation in a safe space and, most importantly, listening.

“What we need to do is maintain those relationships. When I was at Lockheed, I had a white mentor named Jack Clemons who would come by my desk to check on me,” she said.

“At one point he actually worked on the Space Shuttle program. His guidance has certainly brought me to the level I am today.”

JD Gallop is a criminal justice/breaking news reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or [email protected]. X, formerly known as Twitter: @JDGallop.

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