Final Five

With Rashida A. Hodge, vice president, IBM Watson Embed and Strategic Partnerships

Rashida A. Hodge, vice president, IBM Watson Embed and Strategic PartnershipsRashida Hodge received her bachelor's and master's degree in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University and an executive MBA from Duke University. She has been working with IBM since 2002 and manages teams that help engineers use AI intelligence worldwide. She is from the Virgin Islands and currently supports organizations like virginislandsunited.org to drive long-term efforts to help the community rebuild after Hurricane Irma.

What prompted you to pursue industrial engineering?

It's been a journey that started early. After recognizing my proclivity toward math and science, my high school physics teacher suggested I consider engineering. To learn more about the field of engineering, I attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering program, which provided exposure to various engineering disciplines. It was then that I met my match in industrial engineering. I loved the idea of solving problems that impact humanity.

You have a master's degree in industrial engineering as well. What made you continue your education?

Around the time I was completing my bachelor's degree, I saw that the world was rapidly changing and evolving. Given the nature of what I saw occurring around me, I wanted to make sure that I had the best framework for addressing the new challenges that would emerge. Pursuing a master's degree in industrial engineering would allow me to get more knowledge, conduct more research and gain more perspective on my future as an IE. Looking back, it was a great decision. I needed that time to more strategically chart my course, and my master's program allowed that.

You helped build The Young Alumni Council (YAC) at North Carolina State. What does it aim to achieve?

From its inception, the Young Alumni Council has pursued the goal of increasing young alumnus engagement to ensure their interests are represented at N.C. State. The council places an emphasis on alumnus making a difference the day after graduation, rather than 15 to 20 years down the line. We transformed our endowment requirements to allow participation from young alumnus and revisited the requirements for N.C. State's Engineering Foundation to allow alumni participation. Although I am no longer on the council, it is very near to my heart and has taken significant strides in accomplishing its goals.

What kinds of obstacles did you face being a woman in STEM, and how did you overcome them?

I have what I often call the perfect trifecta: I am black, a woman and relatively young. With these identities, I have encountered an entire host of obstacles. I have been underestimated, overlooked and even flat out denied opportunities for which I was more than qualified.

Early in my career, my response to these obstacles was to work harder at proving myself to naysayers and assimilate to the dominant culture around me. It took time to realize that this approach was completely wrong. I am in the room to be myself. I now confidently bring my full self, culture, perspective and ideas to the table.

What advice would you give to young industrial engineers who are interested in STEM-related careers?

Take time to know yourself. Far too often, we have engineers operating in cookie-cutter ways that bring about cookie-cutter solutions. Many people lack nuance. I've come to realize that nuanced responses to challenges come from a deep understanding of how important it is to share one's own unique perspective. When you know yourself, you are better able to convey a disparate perspective that may lead to the solution for a critical challenge. Know yourself and bring that self into everything you do, including STEM.

– Interview by Cassandra Johnson

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