Three women, each graduating with a B.S. in mechanical engineering (MECH) from Rice University, are all headed for graduate school at MIT.
“Somebody told me Rice had the happiest students in the country,” said Eunice Aissi, a native of Benin in West Africa who moved with her family to the U.S. when she was eight years old. “That’s one of the reasons I came here. That turns out to be true.”
The trio of Aissi, Ozioma Ozor-Ilo and Alisa Webb have a lot in common. All had joined their high-school robotics clubs and all came to Rice with full scholarships. All have been active in the Rice chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers — with Ozioma Ozor-Ilo serving as president her senior year. Lastly, all plan to pursue various aspects of MECH as graduate students.
“I wanted to do my best at everything I did. Due to that, I joined a variety of organizations that could help me, even Future Teachers of America, though I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to be an engineer,” said Ozor-Ilo, who was born in Imo State in Nigeria and moved to Alabama at age four.
“I like beautiful things,” she said. “Rice is a beautiful thing. Rice allowed me to be independent.”
Webb was born in Columbus, Miss., and grew up in Baton Rouge, La. At least since she was seven or eight, when she was given a microscope and telescope, Webb has known she would follow an education and career path in STEM.
“I co-founded the astronomy club at my high school,” said Webb, who will pursue an aeronautics and astronautics focus at MIT. She credits two Rice faculty members with most encouraging her studies: Matthew Brake and Geoff Wehmeyer, her research adviser, both assistant professors in MECH. “I couldn’t have asked for better mentors.”
Ozor-Ilo is grateful for the scholarship that permitted her to come to Rice.
“Debt kills dreams,” she said. She recalls the classes she took with Brake and Marcia O’Malley, the Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in MECH, as the intellectual highlights of her undergraduate years.
“They helped me decide what I wanted to do, where I was headed. When I make a decision, I’m going to see it through. Due to my research in Prof. O’Malley’s Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Lab, I decided to stick with haptics at MIT,’’ Ozor-Ilo said.
Aissi credits Laura Schaefer, the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Chair in Engineering and MECH department chair, with energizing her studies and confirming her desire to study renewable energy sources at MIT.
“I’m interested in photovoltaic cells, solar power and wind farms. I may go for a master’s and then get a job in industry. Or maybe I’ll get my Ph.D. I haven’t decided yet,” Aissi said.
She also harbors a greater, long-held ambition: “My mother wanted to start a university in Benin. Maybe we could do that together.”