On this episode, Chloe Henderson talks about diversity equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Henderson reflects upon the role of mentorship, peer relationships, and role models in her development as a woman of color in engineering and the importance of empowering black women's academic excellence in STEM to advance representation. Henderson also discusses the value of outreach and recruitment efforts in engineering as an important act of service, and her vision for inclusive participation, celebration, and representation of marginalized communities in the field.
Amber Williams (00:03):
Hi. Welcome to PodCASC, stories of community action and social change in the real world. And if you didn't catch that before, that's PodCASC, as in the undergraduate minor here in the School of Social Work. This is an ongoing series of interviews that feature the diverse stories of past alumni who share highs, lows, and other revelations about community action and social change after college. Each interview captures unique stories about some of their earliest memories casting how certain lessons learned carry with them or have been challenged or contradicted over time.
Amber Williams (00:37):
Today's interview features Chloe Henderson, hosted by me, Assistant Director and part-time faculty in the minor. Check out Chloe's story.
Amber Williams (00:47):
So hello everyone and welcome back to the CASC alumni podcast. And we are super excited to be having a conversation with Chloe Henderson, an alumni extraordinaire. You can hear more about her story and who she is and just her journey over time.
Amber Williams (01:03):
So Chloe, thank you again so much for spending time with us today and having this conversation. And again, I'm just so excited to hear all that you've been up to and who you are. So would you be willing to share with the people just a little bit about your background, who you are, just tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chloe Henderson (01:20):
Sure. Yeah. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Like I was saying, I'm so excited just to catch up with you and talk about CASC and my journey since graduation, even before.
Chloe Henderson (01:32):
So my name's Chloe Henderson, like you were saying. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, and I graduated from the University of Michigan in April of 2018. I studied mechanical engineering while at Michigan, and then I had of course a community action and social change minor, which was very near and dear to my heart. Since graduating, I moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and I am a gauging engineer for Procter and Gamble. I work on the Gillette razors.
Amber Williams (02:09):
Awesome. What an interesting set of work. I can't wait to unpack more of what's involved in your work and what that looks like. I think I'm just backtracking a little bit. If you could share a little bit more about who you were prior to college. What high school did you go to? What were your experiences like, and how did you end up at Michigan? Why did you come here?
Chloe Henderson (02:31):
Yeah. Okay. Sure. So I went to Mercy High School, which is a private all-girls Catholic school in a suburb of Detroit, Farmington Hills, Michigan. I was always really math and science inclined. I was advanced in math, always taking a couple grades ahead of me in terms of the placement. I took math at a college my senior year. So all of these things kind of pushed me towards engineering, and engineering just made sense.
Chloe Henderson (03:06):
How did I end up at Michigan? Both of my parents went to the University of Michigan actually. They met their freshman year at Ann Arbor. So I was kind of always just destined to go to Michigan, and we're all like, "Go blue, Wolverines!" Everything in the house. Exactly, it's in the blood. So naturally I applied to Michigan early and was hoping to get in, and it worked out. So I think that's really what spurred me to going to Michigan.
Chloe Henderson (03:38):
On top of that, it's a phenomenal school. So I was very excited to go.
Amber Williams (03:45):
Yeah. And I think that's so awesome, just your history and being very math and science or STEM inclined and how for you, that came very early on, maybe even prior to high school in the classes that you were in and the kind of work that you did prior to coming here. I'm super curious to know, so as someone who is and was very STEM inclined, how did you dive into the world of social justice and community and thinking about CASCing at large? What was your introduction to that work?
Chloe Henderson (04:17):
Yeah. That's a really good question. I don't think I fully understood my passion for social justice until I got to Michigan, but I was always really involved in community service. And we had an organization at Mercy and some other schools, Catholic schools and even public schools in the area that was called BSAC, and it was for Black students, for Black awareness for students. That was probably my first organization that I joined where I was really cognizant of what I was doing and the conversations I was having around race and the differences and the experience that I was having at my high school compared to my peers who weren't Black.
Chloe Henderson (05:09):
I also think it was interesting, BSAC was not a organization that was recognized by my high school officially until my senior year, and it had been in existence for years. So that was an interesting experience for me because it was just a reminder of the work that you have to do as a Black student in a predominantly white environment. Like even in 2012, we were working to get that organization recognized as a official Mercy High School student org. So those were some of my first experiences with social justice and joining organizations and movements that were having an impact on different identity groups.
Chloe Henderson (06:01):
I think then once I got to college, it kind of just became natural for me to join organizations that were focused on the advancement of students of color, in particular Black students, and then just I was informed my freshman year my first semester that I was the only African American women in my entire freshman class in the College of Engineering of over 1200 students. So that really propelled me to want to find my community and my support system. So I became more involved with the National Society of Black Engineers and just more involved in CASC and inter group relations, like learning more about all of these different organizations and communities that could be supportive for me while I was at school.
Amber Williams (06:58):
Yeah. Wow. I mean, there is so much that you I think shared in that experience, both in coming to Michigan and being one of only would you say in mechanical engineering or within the School of Engineering at large during that period?
Chloe Henderson (07:10):
It was actually in the entire College of Engineering my first year, yeah.
Amber Williams (07:18):
Yeah. And I'm so curious to know both in your personal experiences and sort of what you witnessed prior to coming to campus around thinking about race and social advancement and participation, all of these themes. Why did that matter to you? So it seemed like you talked a bit about your work at Mercy being somewhat situated around mentorship and mentorship with individuals how were students of color who were also thinking about their involvement beyond high school, and then of course this other piece around just fostering community and thinking about that advancement of students of color, particularly Black students on campus. Why did those issues or themes matter to you as someone who entered this university during that time?
Chloe Henderson (08:04):
Yeah. That's interesting. I think just being a Black woman has always been really salient for me. I'm from Detroit, but I always went to predominantly white schools in the suburbs. So I was very used to being in situations where I was one of a few students of color or even women, except for high school. It was really nice to be at an all-girl school in high school.
Chloe Henderson (08:36):
So I think I've had a lot of experiences focused on my race throughout middle school and high school that really just made me lean on my mentors and my mother, my father, different role models I had in my life. And I absolutely would not have been able to handle or maneuver those hard situations that I had without my role models and mentors. So I think that I have so much appreciation for my mentors that I really wanted to serve as a support system and a mentor for other young women and other women of color, Black women that were going through similar situations as me, and especially trying to enter a community like the University of Michigan at large where there are 3% of Black students on campus or specifically STEM. So in the College of Engineering, just wanting to support my peers because these situations are very difficult to deal with, but it helps to have a mentor to be able to bounce ideas off of and hear, "How did you handle this situation? How do you maneuver?"
Chloe Henderson (09:56):
So I think just personal experience and the empathy that comes with that, those are the reasons that I really wanted to give back and mentor.
Amber Williams (10:11):
Yeah. This reminds me so much of our CASC 401 Days and looking at your philosophy statement and your personal values. I think in what you shared about just giving back or having folks who could be a role model or liaison and how that really impacted you and your experience and having empathy and really showing up within community to just reach back and offer that support is something that you really value. It's something that we, of course, have talked a lot about in 401, but things to really carry you both in who you were in undergrad and also in who you are now as well.
Amber Williams (10:53):
And I wonder with that how all of this ties to your CASC journey. So if you could reflect back to your undergraduate days and highlights that you gained within your journey as a CASCer. What were some themes that really struck you during that time that you're kind of sitting with now, not only within your work but just in the fullness of your life as you think about who you are as a change agent? What's carrying with you now?
Chloe Henderson (11:17):
Yeah. I think back to my first class that I took for CASC, and we were reading about activists, student activists and activists from all over the world. And that really inspired me because at that point, I hadn't really processed fully that a lot of movements were started and propelled by students and people that at that time were my age. So that really motivated me and empowered me to feel like, "Okay. I'm a student, but I can have so much power and really engage with my peers and bring to the forefront what's really important and what's impacting our community negatively and positively. How can we foster a sense of ownership for the experiences in the community that we're forming with the people around us?"
Chloe Henderson (12:19):
So I think those are things that really struck me when I was in college. As I became older and got closer to my senior year and ready to graduate, I think I started to think about more ways I could be intentional with pairing my community action, social change and just passion for social justice with my work as an engineer. And it is something that I struggled with at first because I'm thinking to myself, "Okay. I have this technical degree, or I'm getting this technical degree. What can I really do to continue to live in that change agent, social justice mindset?" And I've found different ways to do that.
Chloe Henderson (13:09):
I think what I'm extremely passionate about that I developed while in undergrad through my experiences, even from fifth grade as a little girl, is wanting to be able to expose young Black women, young Black students in general to the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and math. Just empowering them to understand what these concepts are, to understand that they have the capability to excel in these fields, although it's not easily accessible. So I think the ways that I was able to pair that with my experience in undergrad and even now have been with the National Society of Black Engineers for sure.
Chloe Henderson (14:04):
NSBE has what we call NSBE Junior, and the whole purpose of NSBE Junior is to focus on kindergarten all the way up through 12th grade students, exposing them to STEM fields and empowering them to understand that they can excel in these fields, which is really important if we're trying to increase the number of Black engineers in the workforce. So that's just one small way that I think I still think about CASC a lot and the ways in which I can live my social change, social change agent life.
Amber Williams (14:48):
Yeah. I find that to be such a powerful message. I think oftentimes both with current students, alum, and folks generally, there is often this difficult dialogue about the fusion between social justice and STEM fields or more technical positions and roles at large. And I think folks are constantly wrestling with that. How do I bridge together a value for social change and thinking about equity and inclusion alongside doing work that looks more technical? That may or may not include certain levels of relational aspects. So I think it's really powerful that in your journey around that, that where you see an entry point is around access, and how do you get more folks to feel empowered to participate in the field? And what are the strategies and tools to do that, knowing that, as you said, mentorship is a part of that? But that there could be other ways in which that happened too.
Amber Williams (15:48):
So just curious to hear more of what you think is the role of just STEM fields broadly and bridging together themes around social justice, and how you think folks can further that fusion?
Chloe Henderson (16:00):
Oh, wow. Yeah. I think this'll become even more of a topic of conversation moving forward with the way that technology is just growing and impacting our lifestyle even more. To me, it's extremely important to bring the two concepts together and consider the ways in which things that we're designing as engineers and scientists and different studies that we're conducting are impacting the people that we're serving, and we're making sure that we're incorporating people from different communities into our studies and having a diverse workforce of engineers and scientists working on these concepts.
Chloe Henderson (16:43):
I remember watching a video once of a dispensary. It was dispensing soap out. So there was a scanner, and it had to scan if there was a hand underneath to dispense the soap. And it only worked when a white person put their hand underneath, but it didn't work for a darker skin toned Black person.
Amber Williams (17:09):
Oh, I remember this. Yup.
Chloe Henderson (17:11):
Yeah. So I think even things that might feel small like that, that has a huge impact on a person, especially a child in school trying to learn how to just get soap in the bathroom. So I think things like that are going to become increasingly important as we're relying on technology more and more. If the engineers who are designing these technologies have strong biases that are in their minds, then that's going to bleed over into the technology that they're creating that should be impacting our lifestyles positively. So I think the two are extremely important. I think that just as engineers, we have to think about the items and the technology that we're creating to make positive change and impact the communities that we're serving.
Amber Williams (18:09):
Yeah. Absolutely. And I wonder, this is maybe somewhat connected but also a little bit of a pivot but of course tied to this conversation. So how did you land where you are currently? As you think back to your transition from undergrad and working in your current position and moving to Boston, first, how was that transition for you? And then tell us a little bit more about the work that you do and how you're, again, folding in these themes for yourself within the context of your work too?
Chloe Henderson (18:39):
Yeah. Okay. So another reason I'm really passionate about NSBE, I got this job through a connection that I met with NSBE, that National Society of Black Engineers. So if it were not for NSBE, I would not be here.
Amber Williams (18:58):
Shout out to NSBE.
Chloe Henderson (18:59):
Yeah, shout out to NSBE and the ways it really propels our young Black engineers I would say. So yeah. So I met an engineer form Gillette through NSBE, and that's how I was recruited here and ended up in Boston with Procter and Gamble.
Chloe Henderson (19:20):
The transition has definitely been interesting. Boston is a very interesting city I'll say. It's hard to explain.
Amber Williams (19:29):
Chloe Henderson (19:31):
I would say it's hard. It's very segregated and polarized racially I would say. It's not a big city. But I was shocked. So I interned in Boston in 2016 and 2017 with the company before I came full-time. I could go full days during my internship in 2016 without seeing any people of color in Boston. Walking around, I'd be on public transportation, going to lunch, and that's not something I was used to before I moved here. So I've had to be more intentional about finding communities of color, my communities, finding opportunities to engage with people and do community service and just finding my area in Boston. So from a cultural standpoint, it's taken me some time to get used to Boston and feel comfortable here and really find my community.
Chloe Henderson (20:40):
Then in terms of the work that I do, so I am an engineer, as I've mentioned. I design all of the equipment that measures each part of all of our razors that we make at Gillette. So it's very technical work.
Chloe Henderson (21:00):
In terms of what I do that has to do with my social justice passion, I've really been able to find I would say a lot of ways at Gillette to tie that into my work every day. And also a lot of ways outside of work too with the organizations that I'm a part of. I'm fortunate to work for a company that invests a lot of money into our affinity groups and different events that we want to plan, drawing attention to certain things. Even just the ads that they put out invests a lot of money and time and opportunities for people to have these conversations.
Chloe Henderson (21:41):
So in February, we had Black History Month, and I was able to serve on the committee that planned every single one of our events. And this year, we really took Black History to the next level in terms of using the events that we plan to really create opportunities for people to have those hard discussions, to draw attention to bias, to draw attention to the ways in which you're interacting with Black employees here, to draw attention to the different cultural celebrations that are important to us.
Chloe Henderson (22:21):
I think in the past, sometimes people would just look at Black History Month as an opportunity to come get good food, learn about the Black employees at work. It was more of an easy-going type of experience with our events, but this year we really wanted to propel the conversations around social identities to the next level. The focus for this month was on intersectionality actually. So each week we focused on being Black and something else. So that's what we called each week. We had Black and being a women; Black and being a man; Black and being a member of the LGBTQ community. So we were really taking the opportunity and being at the forefront of everyone's attention for the month to really give people an opportunity to learn a lot. And that's just one example of what I've been able to do at Gillette with my social justice passion I would say.
Amber Williams (23:35):
Yeah. And I think there's something to be said about selecting a organization to work with that has a stated commitment to thinking about issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So even if it is not directly embedded in what you, knowing that there is a commitment by that organization, and then also opportunities to do other forms of service and work out of that organization too. So that's really positive that you were one, able to make that connection with someone who also had a direct link to the corporation, but to also be selective in where you went knowing that these ideals were aligned with your own values and thoughts as well.
Chloe Henderson (24:19):
Yeah. Definitely. I think that given that I was recruited by someone that I had met through NSBE, as soon as I came and started working here, I was like, "Okay. I need to get involved with recruiting for NSBE." So I've been able to go to different recruiting events, go to the NSBE national convention, even go back to the University of Michigan Engineering Career Fair and make sure that I'm recruiting and recruiting intentionally and encouraging my peers, my coworkers to think about identities and think about the diversity that we want to bring into the company when they're recruiting at these different events. So that too has been something that's very important to me since starting.
Amber Williams (25:04):
Yeah. Definitely. So something else that's on my mind, and this is often a conversation that many alumni CASCers bring up, especially folks who have moved all across the world in different locations, folks who are from all over and then move very far and are trying to find a way to adjust. If you could share a little bit about any advice that you would offer to your former self as a part of that transition or to others in terms of what it means to just get situated in a new context or environment and how you navigated that, and also how you were able to build community? I think even locating a social justice oriented community can be difficult. So what was your experience navigating that, and then also what feedback might you offer yourself or others around just navigating that kind of adjustment when you're further away from home?
Chloe Henderson (25:56):
Yeah, yeah. That's a good question. Adjusting to life in Boston I would say was difficult. I'm very lucky. I have great coworkers. I have awesome coworkers that really helps me to form a community as soon as I moved here. I have coworkers that have similar interests as me in giving back to the community, find these organizations and people that we can talk to about creating the positive change.
Chloe Henderson (26:29):
I will say I took my time. I took the first few months just to get settled before trying to join organizations or starting to go to meetings. Just took time to get myself comfortable and settled in my new apartment, new city. And I think that was good for me.
Chloe Henderson (26:51):
Then I started to look into how do I get more involved with NESBE? How do I get more involved with my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha? Like joining a graduate chapter here, joining a committee that I can help give back with. Those are the sort of things that I started looking into about three months into living in Boston.
Chloe Henderson (27:15):
Something I've been trying to do over the past few months is spreading out beyond organizations that I'm comfortable with because NSBE and AKA are organizations that I've been in since college. So I'm a lot more comfortable with what these organizations stand for. I know how things go, typically how often we meet, what the committees are focused on. But lately I've been trying to spread my wings more and find other organizations and opportunities where I can help give back. So even just today, I reached out to an organization I found on Instagram, and it's just called VIBE. It stands for Volunteers Incorporating Black Excellence. So that's something I'm going to try and do in a couple of weeks when I'm back in town, volunteer with them and give back to the community.
Chloe Henderson (28:18):
Working with the Boys and Girls Club has been fun for me. Just trying to find my community and the ways in which I can authentically give back but also help to create that positive change beyond just going to an event. So I would say that you shouldn't rush into it as soon as you move. If you're trying to just get comfortable with the space that you're living in, take your time to get comfortable. But once I started reaching out to these communities is when I really started to feel like I had a family in Boston and more of a sense of belonging in the community where I was living.
Amber Williams (29:07):
Yeah. And I think there's such an incredible message there about just knowing who you're currently connected to and tapping into existing networks. That could be national where local chapters are held and kind of bridging those connections there but also that there's beauty in challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone and to find other organizations or folks who might be doing sets of work in the community that you care about. So that kind of risk taking aspect that can be difficult when you're starting in a new position and emerging in a new community but also so necessary for expanding your sense of community and getting situated too.
Chloe Henderson (29:48):
Amber Williams (29:48):
Yeah. All right. So okay. We're kind of wrapping up and closing here. But as we sort of wrap up this conversation, I really want to hear a little bit from you about something you're really looking forward to and kind of projecting for your own future. Any areas of knowledge or skills or other things that you're just looking forward to building or expanding upon as you think about who you are within a social justice context?
Chloe Henderson (30:19):
Yeah. These are the things that I think about every day.
Amber Williams (30:25):
That sounds a little stressful but also beautiful.
Chloe Henderson (30:27):
Yes. Yeah, no. It's a beautiful thing. I talk to my mom about this a lot. The idea of figuring out and determining, like I mentioned before, ways for me to engage with my community authentically and purposefully and not just because I think, "This is what I'm supposed to do." So that's something that I've been trying to determine. What makes the most sense for me? What skillset do I have that would enable me to be able to connect with my community in the best way? How can I engage with those around me in a positive way to really help promote and create that change that I want to see? I think that at the end of the day my passion lies in exposing students to STEM, particularly students of color. And I don't know what that looks like for me in the future. Does that look like me just working with NSBE Junior? Does it look like me working with Girls Who Code, the Boys and Girls Club? Does it look like me starting my own foundation?
Chloe Henderson (31:42):
I'm still wrestling with the best way for me to move forward in this space and to have the most positive impact. But I do know that at the core of me, I'm extremely passionate about STEM and exposing and empowering young minority students of color just to really dive into that field. So I know that's what I am extremely passionate about. I'm looking to determine the best way for me to really make that happen still. But that is definitely something that I think about often.
Amber Williams (32:29):
Yeah. And it also sounds like a continuation of work that you really value that you've been invested in since you were a high schooler, and that really carrying with you, even now as someone who is working out in the field, involving in community that your sense of purpose around thinking about inclusion within the field of engineering and STEM at large is really at the heart of what you care about. So much of your advocacy and work is situation there, and that there are so many different formats to continue to integrate those areas and continue that work in the future. So it's just really beautiful to hear you reiterate that as a part of your own journey, no matter what form that takes in the future.
Chloe Henderson (33:11):
Amber Williams (33:16):
So last question for real this time. If there is one piece of feedback, if any, that you would give yourself if you think back to your time as an undergraduate student, which is a year and some change out from now, but even looking back from that time, what's a piece of advice that you would give yourself or piece of feedback or a special message that you would want to share with yourself in hindsight being where you are now?
Chloe Henderson (33:45):
Oh wow. Let's see. Let me think about that. I think in undergrad for me, it was like very easy to get caught up in the stress of my engineering courses and the drama that was going on around me with my student organizations and just dealing with those things. I would give myself the advice to really just completely throw myself into the events and activities that I really wanted to attend that were being put on by my student organizations, by CASC, by my residents, by the people that were around me. I would say those events and retreats that I attended had the most impact on me, and those are the things that I look back at and remember the most from college. So I think just giving myself the space to focus on those kinds of events is something that I wish I had allowed myself to do more. And given myself more credit for. I think I felt guilty a lot of the times when I took time away from studying to do those things. But those are the memories that I cherish the most I would say from college and that have the most impact on me.
Amber Williams (35:24):
Yeah. Being present.
Chloe Henderson (35:26):
Yeah, for sure.
Amber Williams (35:27):
Being in the moment. Yeah. I will say with that, I think you hold a CASC record for most amount of [inaudible 00:35:34] retreats attending and enrolled of all time, which we absolutely love you for. Which is so wonderful. But yes, being present is something that I also value and find important too. So appreciate your reflections on that.
Chloe Henderson (35:52):
Thank you for sure.
Amber Williams (35:55):
Well, thank you so much for holding time and space to have this conversation with us, Chloe, and I think there are so many takeaways and themes that can be bridged from this conversation just from your experiences and thinking about the role of social justice and STEM and what it means to be giving back to the community and thinking about the value of mentorship and social advancement and inclusion and access. So many incredible nuggets that you shared with us today that we are so excited to share with our broader CASC community. So thank you again for spending time.
Chloe Henderson (36:30):
Thank you so much. I had so much fun with you, Amber. I really appreciate it.
Amber Williams (36:38):
Thanks for listening everyone, and check us out next week for the next alumni interview. We'll be on Apple Podcast and also Spotify.