Camille Eddy is a mechanical engineering student at Boise State University, a machine learning intern working in robotics at HP Labs, and one of the student founders of the Space Broncos (an interdisciplinary leadership practicum in collaboration with the Office of Education at NASA.).
She was selected for the honor of introducing President Barack Obama when he visited Boise State University and has assumed a leadership role at the university and beyond addressing the issue of diversity and inclusion of women and students of color in STEM.
You were one of the founding members of Space Broncos. What was the genesis of the organization and why did you get involved?
Former astronaut Barbara Morgan developed a student panel to work on making NASA astronaut Steve Swanson accessible to students once he went up to space. Our first project was a space symposium that featured NASA research groups on campus and a downlink/uplink with the Space Station. With this kind of student leadership in mind, I grew the group and we created two space virtual reality simulations with the help of then Boise Virtual Reality project.
You were part of a team that made it to the regional finals of the 2016 Hult Prize, an international competition to accelerate young social entrepreneurs emerging from the world’s universities. What was the inspiration behind the project?
We had a social impact focus and our goal was to create a for-profit business model to double the income of a million people living in urban crowded areas or slums. Our main idea was to use a $5 computer to teach a million people how to take advantage of the outsourcing industry.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during this process and how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge and what ended up being the big takeaway was that it is important to understand the cultures and the people you are building solutions for. Our team focused on slums in other parts of the world, but it was surprising to discover that it was much harder to envision the crowded urban areas in our own country, in places like New York or Cincinnati, even though they have a culture more similar to our own. Everyone has needs and social impact projects can be a much more complicated issue than it looks at first glance.
Recently you’ve been working and speaking about diversity and inclusion for women and students of color in STEM. What got you interested in this issue?
Growing up, I learned a lot about astronaut Mae Jemison and the achievement she made as the first female Black astronaut. That stuck with me and became the reason I was interested in engineering in the first place. But once I arrived on the college scene, I realized not a lot of people were talking about the issue of representation in STEM. This spurred me to help change the visibility for women of color in STEM.
You were asked to introduce President Obama when he visited Boise in 2015. What was that experience like?
I felt very fortunate to introduce President Obama. Even as I was waiting in my seat to go on stage to speak, I didn’t think that I would meet the President that day. I was literally playing it by ear, with my speech in my hand and rehearsed. Someone told me to go to this back room and I found myself taking a picture with him, then another person took me backstage, and later I was talking to the President himself. My family was on the other side of the stage with the rest of the audience so they had no idea what was going on either. I walked on stage, found my mom in the crowd to my right, and then started speaking. It was incredible to lead the crowd in that moment of welcoming the President on stage. I think it is really important that many students find places where they can get opportunities that lift them up like that and I am really grateful for that opportunity.
If you could change one thing in the world right now, what would it be?
I would change access to education. Access to education is made up of a lot of things, not just a law that says everyone can go to school. Cost, family support, location, diverse faculty, and culturally competent administration also factor into real decisions about access to education.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I skipped breakfast and had chicken pot roast for lunch.
What scares you?
I fear I do not shape into the fit for the dreams I have. Space careers, tech careers, and policy careers hire from a pool of students who fit the educational system just right. I have never simply gone along with the educational system. I am always forging my own path. But I am still young and hoping to work for a company where they are used to seeing certain students, but will allow for an exception like me.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly. The story is about the Black female mathematicians who worked at NASA in fluid mechanics, many without formal training in engineering, but still were math geniuses. They were given the opportunity to work on the Apollo launch during a time of discrimination and hardship for smart African Americans and women. The book shows how they got this opportunity because they proved their worth and their talent; plus, they networked! This story speaks to the reality women of color face even today. Because of our color and gender, we face a complicated struggle for equality and opportunity.
Solange’s Seat at the Table. I really enjoyed this album because it is different and it also talks about ideas that really pertain to my experience as a Black female as well as the experience of some of my friends and family. One of her tracks titled, “Don’t Touch my Hair,” talks about Black hair styles and respecting individuality. This is something from my Black culture that is really pertinent to me. I want all cultures to be respected and for everyone to have a certain level of knowledge about how to create an inviting environment for many different people. Inclusivity surrounds many different aspects of life including discussion, representation, and accountability.
I don’t have a lot of time to watch TV shows, but I recently binge watched How to Get Away with Murder. Viola Davis plays the strongest Black female lead I have ever seen and her character is the closest rival to Claire Huxtable as a sharp and snazzy Black female lawyer. Other than that, you will most certainly catch me watching almost all of the old Star Trek shows.
My favorite color is green for no particular reason.
Rock, Paper, or Scissors?
Scissors. I hope to cut through the red tape and rope that has been put up to keep students like me from succeeding.
What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself—and answer?
How do you bring more allies and mentors to the path of students who are struggling to take the next step? It requires looking for mentors who are willing to invest time in students as well as share their knowledge and networks. These mentors could be young, in another state or country, or in another industry. Never give up an opportunity to close the gap for opportunities.