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Here’s how a group of donors banded together to support underrepresented students in engineering.

Left to right: Shunna Cannon – Southern Company Services; Terrance Moultrie – Alabama Power; Armmon Carter - Alabama Power; Tequila Smith – Georgia Power; Kamisha Quates – Entergy; Jarvis Wright – Southern PowerLeft to right: Shunna Cannon – Southern Company Services; Terrance Moultrie – Alabama Power; Armmon Carter - Alabama Power; Tequila Smith – Georgia Power; Kamisha Quates – Entergy; Jarvis Wright – Southern PowerTequila Smith, ’99, knows what it’s like to be the only African American female in the room.

Now the Vice President of Corporate Sustainability for Georgia Power, Smith graduated from UAB with a degree in mechanical engineering. Often, she said, she was the only person that looked like her inside her classrooms at UAB. But, thanks to a family that raised her to find her voice and to UAB faculty who encouraged her, Smith found success, both as a college student and a young alumna.

“You have to become very comfortable being the only one,” Smith said. “I think it starts from within—to know you can do it. Setbacks don’t mean you quit. You find the courage within yourself to keep going. That’s my message I want to share with young men and young women pursuing STEM careers: It may not be easy, but it’s absolutely worth it.”

Now Smith, along with other donors she recruited, wants to ensure that other underrepresented students don’t feel alone, financially or when they look around their classrooms at UAB. Smith is the lead donor and organizer of The UAB Alumni Endowed Engineering Scholarship for Underrepresented Students. The scholarship is supported by donations from employees at not just Smith’s Georgia Power but also Alabama Power, Southern Power, Southern Company Services, Deloitte, Entergy and Neel-Schaffer.

“There are so many people doing their part to make this happen,” she said. “There is power in numbers. I think it’s important for everyone to understand it’s not about the amount of money—it’s about doing our part for the next generation of engineers.”

When Smith was an undergraduate, she herself received generous scholarship support. Supporting the next generation just as she was once supported mattered to her.

“Being an African American female in STEM is rare,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to initiate the scholarship, for not only young women, but for young men pursuing STEM careers. I have a passion for giving back. It’s a duty we all have to do our part. It doesn’t have to be monetary. It can be pulling a group together. What we want young people to get from this is that the issues of the world seem so tremendous; all it takes is collaboration. If we all do our part, we can accomplish anything.”

The scholarship will be awarded every year in perpetuity to underrepresented students who are at least sophomores. The first scholarships are expected to be awarded in the fall of 2023.

“Engineering is a wonderful, rewarding profession that can be a great source of social mobility,” said Jeffrey Holmes, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the UAB School of Engineering. “One engineering job can impact a family for generations to come. But historically our field has not been welcoming to women and students of color; as a profession we are much less diverse than society as a whole. UAB Engineering is committed to changing that. Our student body is much more diverse than engineering programs nationwide, and every class we graduate moves the entire field in the right direction. The only thing more rewarding than hearing about how UAB Engineering impacted Tequila and the other alumni who established this scholarship is knowing how many future students their scholarship will support.”

Many of Smith’s fellow donors to the scholarship are also passionate UAB graduates, like Jarvis Wright, ’98, Commercial Markets Manager at Southern Power. Wright grew up in a small, rural town in Alabama and was the first in his family to attend college. Because Wright’s father worked for Alabama Power, he was able to get a scholarship to attend school.

Now Wright is helping other students attend college as a donor to this scholarship. “It’s a great chance to further someone else’s education,” he said.

For Theresa Carter, Project Manager at Neel-Schaffer and a 1995 graduate of Mississippi State University, “it matters because I believe so many kids have the potential to contribute great things to our society,” she said. “Some never get the chance. When they receive funds from this scholarship, it will allow them to be able to attend college and unlock the potential they have inside of them that otherwise may never have been discovered.”

Fellow donor LaQuisha Buggs, ’98, Energy Services Manager at Alabama Power, was also a first-generation college student at UAB. “It changed my life,” she said. “Obtaining an engineering degree has enabled me to live a life I otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s important for me to give back. I have always believed in service, and to financially give back—to see somebody else’s life change and their dreams come true—it’s important.”

Fellow UAB graduate Demitrius Davis, ’03 and ’11, Vice President of Operations Support and Power Generation at Entergy, said he was always raised to reach back and pull others up with him. “It’s about that linkage back, to continue to offer the same opportunities, if not more than we’ve received,” he said. “We all stand on the shoulders of those who come before us. Regardless of the communities that we grew up in or our backgrounds, race and what have you, we have an obligation to reach back and, if nothing else, pay homage to those who did it for us.”

This scholarship is about creating a long-term change, Smith said.

“That’s important to me and my colleagues—to create something like that for generations to come,” she said. “My story, being a first-generation college graduate with an engineering degree, was pivotal in my life—not only in my life, but my children’s lives and, dare I say, the lives of my grandchildren I hope to have one day. Education is still the key to changing lives.”

Smith’s daughter is currently a mechanical engineering student at UAB, carrying on the family legacy her mother started. Smith said it’s important for today’s underrepresented students to see those who came before them.

“UAB is everything to me,” Smith said. “Obtaining a degree in mechanical engineering from UAB was absolutely life-changing.” And for those students who will one day be recipients of the scholarship she organized? When they too have found professional success, she hopes, “it would be an honor for them to pay it forward.”

You too can contribute to this important fund and make sure underrepresented students in engineering feel supported. Contact Robert Blakely at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or follow the link below to give.

UAB Alumni Endowed Engineering Scholarship for Underrepresented Students


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