MEET THE GRADUATES

By Vince Horiuchi, Public Relations Associate for the College of Engineering

At the tender age of 23, University of Utah engineering student Thelina Smith already feels the need to give back to the very community that helped her excel through her college career.

The Salt Lake City woman is about to graduate from the U this May with a degree in biomedical engineering and a minor in leadership studies, and her first initiative is creating a new organization designed to help young people build their self-confidence and refine their leadership skills. It’s called SELF-ESTEAM (Students Embracing Leadership for Excelling in STEAM) where ThelinaSTEAM not only includes science, technology, engineering and math, but also the arts.

SELF-ESTEAM is partnering with the STEM Action Center to organize four conferences a year that will invite junior high and high school students, particularly young women and minorities, to work on bridging the gap between leadership and STEM education while developing their self-confidence. The first conference will be held Aug. 15.

“I’ve really learned what perseverance and ambition are,” she said. “My academic career was very hard, and I learned how important it is to reach out and get help by creating a support system. I developed this organization off my own experiences.”

And Smith already has had a lifetime of experiences packed into her first five years at the U.

While navigating coursework, internships, student clubs and outreach, she also was Miss Black Utah USA in 2013, breaking into the top 20 in the Miss Black USA competition. She also is this year’s Miss Utah International, and her platform is “engineering change by building the leaders of tomorrow with STEAM.” She will vie for the title of Miss International this July in Jacksonville, Florida.

Smith is about to complete a four-year internship with the applied research and technology team at BARD Access Systems where she conducts material evaluations and failure investigation analyses.

She also established the first chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers at the University of Utah and reinvigorated the university’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, where she served as president in 2010. She also launched a program with monthly engineering activities for junior high and high school girls.

One of Smith’s main goals is increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines.

“When I was in seventh grade, I participated in a STEM achievement program that really ignited a passion for engineering in me,” she said in 2013. “I want others to see how cool engineering is and get them excited about this subject early on.”

Meanwhile, Smith plans to pursue her MBA (she says she’s applying at a number of colleges, including the U) while she continues to work on her platform and implement STEM programs in the community. She says her experience at the U is what sparked her ambitions and an early desire to give back.

“It’s a great feeling. I’m ecstatic,” she said about graduating this year. “It’s been a great journey, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and building community.”

To learn more about Smith’s organization or to support her efforts through sponsorship, please visit SELF-ESTEAM.com.

The University of Utah commencement and convocation ceremonies are held annually at the conclusion of spring semester. Candidates for graduation from the summer 2014, fall 2014, spring 2015 or summer 2015 terms may attend. Commencement will be held on Thursday, May 7, 2015, at 6:30 p.m. at the Jon M. Huntsman Center. This year’s commencement speaker will be U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and U alum Robert McDonald. Honorary degrees will be awarded to Anne Cullimore Decker, Henry B. Eyring and Mark Fuller. For more information, please visit the Commencement Ceremony page.