Deja Jackson

2nd Year PhD Student
Civil Engineering (Transportation)
University of Florida

About Me

My undergraduate degree was in Civil Engineering Technology and I graduated from South Carolina State University. Prior to high school, I thought that I would become a lawyer.

How was your experience with STEM classes and teachers in middle and high school?

Overall, my middle school STEM experience was great! I had passionate African American female teachers who had my best interest at heart and pushed me to keep an interest in STEM. However, my experience with STEM classes and teachers were less inspiring after middle school. In high school I dealt with many white male instructors who stereotyped me daily for being the only African American student in the classroom. Being a student athlete didn’t help either. I had instructors ask me the strangest things. I remember my Honors Chemistry teacher making both sexist and racist comments throughout the class periods, one pertaining to whether or not Blacks could use EBT to buy calculators. My Algebra 3 instructor told me that he doubted if I could complete his course because I was nothing more than a typical athlete. Despite experiencing negative stereotypes, this “typical athlete” not only excelled in three sports, I finished in the top 10 of my graduating class and received both a full track and full academic scholarship to South Carolina State University.

After grad school, what’s next?

After completing my PhD, I plan on going to industry to practice engineering and work my way up to the Secretary of Transportation in a state department.

What do you do to unwind?

To unwind I paint and play sports. I also dress up and go out to paint the town “Deja” from time to time, lol.

My Research

My current research focuses on applying various analytical methods to address transportation safety problems. Through analyzing crash data, I am able to determine the factors that influence various types of crashes whether they are related to human behavior, roadway design or the environment. With this insight, I can effectively propose counter measures to contribute to the Federal Highway Administration’s “Towards Zero Death” Vision, which is to reduce the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities on our nation’s roadways. My specific dissertation research is in the area of motorcycle safety.

My motivation to pursue a career in Transportation stemmed from my own personal experiences. I grew up in Saint Helena Island, South Carolina, a small island with only three main two-lane roads that provide arterial access to much of the island. For years there had been proposals on how to address the potential issue of not being able to get on or off of my island in the event of a problem with the main artery. In 2007 our worst nightmare became reality.

During the summer before my freshman year in high school the McTeer Bridge, a barge carrying a crane struck one of my island’s two major bridges. As a result the bridge was deemed unsafe for use and closed for repairs. What used to be a 15-minute commute to school turned into a stressful two-hour ride. The island I lived on and the neighboring islands’ traffic had to be routed over the downtown swing bridge. It was at this moment I realized just how important transportation really was.

Transportation is the foundation of our everyday lives. It gets us to and from where we want and need to be. It’s the glue that keeps us together, connecting us to one another no matter the distance. With transportation having such a significant role in our lives, I want to contribute to the system that moves our nation.

My Grad School Experience

As an African American woman of the sciences, I have firsthand experience with underrepresentation and feeling as though I must work harder than others just to receive the level of respect others are often automatically given. This is why I chose to go to grad school. I hope that my pursuit of a doctoral degree will not only break down the stereotypes and misconceptions about women and African Americans in the engineering and science disciplines, but will also serve as encouragement for others to do the same.

Surprisingly, I have never felt discouraged on my journey. I usually take any negativity thrown my way with a grain of salt and use it as motivation to complete my journey. The way I see things, there will always be someone or something trying to deter you from completing your journey, but at the end of the day your journey isn’t for everyone to tag along on or understand–especially if they have never embarked upon the journey themselves.

I would definitely have to say that my family and sorority are my biggest support systems. No matter what is thrown my way, they will never let me stray too far before reeling me back in to focus on the goal of obtaining my PhD.

What do you want to say to up and coming Melanin Genius?

Set a goal and stick to it. No one can stop you from reaching it but you!

What has been the most useful life advice you have received?

“Never take any advice from someone who isn’t where you want to be.”        

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