Kimberly Grant to become first African American woman to graduate in Mining Engineering at Penn State

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Kimberly Grant with Larry Grayson, undergraduate program officer of mining engineering, at the 2012 EME Awards Banquet
Kimberly Grant with Larry Grayson, undergraduate program officer of mining engineering, at the 2012 EME Awards Banquet
December 12, 2012

The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences is set to laud the first African American woman to graduate in Mining Engineering at Penn State: Ms. Kimberly J. Grant. “I will always remember Kimberly for her passion about workers’ safety and health and the need for strong compliance with both safety and environmental regulations,” said Larry Grayson, undergraduate program officer for mining engineering, an encouraging mentor to Kimberly since she began her studies in 2009. “She has quiet passion for important issues and worked very hard for her grades, always doing a very professional job on her assignments and projects. Kimberly will be a true and dedicated professional, and I am very proud of her and her family for supporting her.”

Kimberly took time out of her very busy class schedule to chat with me in her final semester at Penn State. Our conversation follows:

Question: What was the most difficult aspect of the road to your B.S. in Mining Engineering?
The going has been tough, but I’ve been really determined. Everyone except my family was telling me no. ‘No, you can’t get into Penn State.’ ‘No, you can’t be an engineer.’ ‘You don’t have the smarts.’ ‘You don’t have the grades.’ ‘You won’t be able to do the math.’ On paper, they were right. My placement tests weren’t good. The curriculum followed by inner city high schools in Philadelphia just can’t provide the level of preparedness needed to test well for an engineering program. I was already behind, even before classes started. But when I got to Penn State and talked to my college advisor, Jonathan Merritt, I told him how much I wanted to pursue Mining Engineering. He listened. Although he was probably skeptical, he still listened and gave me an honest appraisal of the work required and the difficulties ahead.

Q: Why Mining Engineering? That’s an unusual goal, isn’t it?
Coming from inner city Philadelphia, I didn’t know anything about mines. But I’ll never forget seeing reports of mining disasters on the news, depicting the lives lost, and the grieving families, and I was determined to work one day to be a part of improving health and safety in the mining industry.

Q: Have there been obstacles for you, given that this is a male-dominated field?
Oh yes. Sometimes, guys don’t take women seriously, and I can tell you it’s even worse for a black woman. When I first walked into a mining engineering class, the guys’ first reaction was, ‘Who are you, where are you from, and what are you doing here?’ They weren’t mean about it, just really surprised and curious. They all laughed and shook their heads. On a field trip in a coal extraction course, we visited an underground coal mine in West Virginia. The workers there were chuckling and whispering, ‘What’s she doing here?’ But then, once we were in the mine, and I was making observations and answering questions, they shut up pretty quickly. That was a good feeling. Oh, and don’t get me wrong about the guys in my mining engineering courses. After that original shock, they have all been really great and we’ve really bonded. We enjoy each other’s company; we have the same passion about our field.

Q: What would be your advice to other women interested in the same path?
Don’t be discouraged by males who don’t think you are fit for the field. You can still maintain your femininity, too. I met a representative from the Matterhorn Mining Boot company at a meeting of the Society of Mining and Metallurgy Exploration (SME) in 2010. I asked her if the company made any boots that weren’t all black, which are very mannish looking. She completely surprised me by express-mailing a pair of pink and black steel-toe mining boots that she had special-ordered just for me.

Q: Do you have any Penn State honors, awards or experiences that you’d like to talk about?
I’ve been fortunate to receive a Bunton Waller Scholarship twice, as well as the Robert Stefanko Memorial Scholarship three times. I joined the Silent Praise MIME Ministry as a freshman in 2006, and this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. In Silent Praise, we utilize physical interpretation and movement in Christian worship, reaching out to every age group. The support and friendship from this wonderful fellowship has helped me endure the lows and celebrate the highs. I have also enjoyed playing IM Girls’ Basketball for Penn State since 2007. Basketball—there’s another passion. I played in high school and love it.

Q: What are your plans after receiving your degree this fall?
My personal goal is to participate in outreach projects, talking to high school students in inner city schools, encouraging them to work hard and not to take no for an answer. My career goal is to work in the industry and bring about a better public perception of what the mining industry is. I am also very interested in research in mining health and safety; I would love to earn a master’s degree someday.

Q: How would you rate the advising and mentoring assistance you have received in EMS over the years?
That’s easy. I would rate it a ten. I have been made to feel really comfortable by all the college’s advisors and faculty mentors. I have never been discouraged from seeking my dream. I have never felt judged as inadequate.

**article by Martha Traverse, EMS Ryan Family Student Center