Errika Moore (BIE 1996) is a standout alumna of the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). She has won numerous awards as a mentor and a community builder for her dedication to increasing Black representation in STEM fields, both in terms of educational opportunities and in professional careers. Moore has served on many different boards, including the ISyE Advisory Board, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization, the American Diabetes Association, Out Teach, and Per Scholas. She is currently the senior program officer at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
In this interview, Moore discusses her own experiences as a Black woman in STEM, why she is so passionate about increasing Black representation in STEM, and her hopes for the young Black students who are currently at Georgia Tech. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What has been on your mind while watching the civil unrest related to this summer’s deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others – especially since you’re raising two Black sons?
As a mother of two teenage boys, my heart goes out to all of mothers and fathers who’ve had to bury their children in the last few years due to senseless, avoidable deaths. My sons are now 18 and 16. After a racial incident occurred at their private school last fall, I shared with the the administration that I unfortunately have had to prepare my sons for these kinds of life tragedies their entire lives. My greatest fear when my oldest son began driving was not that he’d get into a car accident but rather that he’d be pulled over by the police – and now that he’s 18, that fear has heightened.
I’m frustrated that I’ve had to spend more time the last two years not encouraging my son to enjoy life and spending time with friends but instead urging him to watch where he goes, to be prepared for his “passive” response to law enforcement, and to recognize that his academic excellence and honors at a nationally recognized high school means nothing to those he might encounter who would wish to harm him.
Could you share some thoughts about what it has been like to be a Black woman in STEM – that intersectionality – beginning with your undergraduate years at Tech Institute and continuing to where you are today?
Midway through my undergraduate career at Tech, I realized the intersectionality of being a Black woman in STEM was a highly marginalized position when the professor teaching my circuits class told me, “Black women have no business in engineering.” And although one of my greatest joys in life will always be having seen that same professor sitting on the dais as I crossed the stage at Commencement, one of the most pivotal aspects about that moment is that I became committed to ensuring all Black women in STEM have the opportunity to be uplifted and honored instead of being marginalized or dismissed.
Throughout my life, I’ve had a significant level of encouragement from my parents, mentors, sponsors and uplifting organizations like the Georgia Tech chapter of National Society of Black Engineers and the Xi Alpha chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. But what about the young Black women who can’t leverage these support systems?
Statistically, half of them decide not to pursue a STEM education before they even graduate from high school. For those who enter college, another 50% opt not to graduate in STEM. And the next large drop in numbers occurs before those STEM graduates complete eight years in their professional careers. Thankfully, programs like the Million Women Mentors movement, Women in Technology (WIT) Girls, Black Girls Code, and IT Senior Management Forum’s (ITSMF) Emerge Academy exist to support young Black girls and women to excel in STEM.
You have had an incredibly successful career – and have specifically held professional positions and volunteer leadership positions in organizations that work toward increasing diversity in STEM. What has driven your missional mindset behind this?
My parents taught me at a very young age that we are “blessed to be a blessing.” Currently, my personal mantras are “The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose” and “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” I know that I’ve been blessed to represent diversity in STEM, and I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to lead efforts, boards, and organizations with this same focus for the past 30 years: working to encourage, enable, uplift, and fortify others so that they too have the opportunity to represent diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.
Why is diversity in STEM so important?
Statistics reflect, and companies have proven, that diversity in STEM creates better business models, better ideation, more inclusive technology, and products that are more reflective of their consumers. In fact, Georgia Tech alumna Joy Buolamwini (CS 12) – recently featured in Fast Company magazine as the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) – has literally proven this through her research and her MIT thesis.
Her thesis methodology uncovered large racial and gender bias in AI services from companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. AJL was created to form a world with more ethical and inclusive technology. Because the reality is, without diversity in STEM we won’t have diverse minds, diverse thoughts, or diverse discoveries to challenge and hold these racial and gender bias “norms” accountable.
Given this, we need more K-12 educational systems, higher education institutions, and corporations to actively focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. And until that happens to the point of changing outcomes and the number of Black students in STEM, I’ll continue to be a staunch advocate and change agent.
What are your hopes for the present moment in our country, and for the generation of young Black students currently at Georgia Tech?
Unfortunately, the present moment doesn’t reflect hope. We’ve lost iconic leaders like John Lewis, and the lives of future leaders have been sacrificed. So, my hope for the Black students currently at Georgia Tech is that they will think beyond the here and now, that they will look to the future and think about the world they want to create for the generations to come. My hope is that they do know that their lives matter – and not only do their lives matter, but that what they intend to do with their lives matters.
Our diverse STEM future rests in their hands – and that is where the hope is.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering