University of Delaware
Marlyse Williams addresses the RISE student achievement convocation.

Taking flight

UD alumna imparts wisdom, experience to RISE graduates


1:26 p.m., June 4, 2013--The story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight in 1896 is one of perseverance, hardship and ultimately engineering triumph. 

It’s also an apt illustration of what it takes to succeed as an engineering student.

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“Are you ready to take flight?” asked Marlyse Williams at the 21st annual University of Delaware Resources to Insure Successful Engineers (RISE) student achievement convocation May 4. The ceremony honored 17 graduating seniors and recognized awards and scholarships earned by students in the program. 

Williams, a UD alumna and first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, was once a RISE student herself. In her keynote speech, she encouraged RISE graduates to emulate the Wright Brothers’ dedication and commitment, saying, “Strive for nothing short of greatness.”

“You will encounter challenges and failures and setbacks but you must learn to be resilient, to learn from those mistakes and to continue to have faith,” said Williams, a Trinidad and Tobago native who immigrated to the United States with her family at age 7. 

A Blue Hen Ambassador, Williams earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering at UD in 2004. She continued on to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering with a concentration in environmental engineering in 2006, as a Bridges to the Doctorate Scholar and a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholarship recipient. Following graduation, her master’s thesis was published as a textbook in 2007.

She earned her doctorate in agricultural and biological engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 2010. Today, Williams supervises more than 1,100 military and civilians, and assists in the maintenance and repair of over 4,000 buildings and facilities on 44 acres at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the only tri-service joint base, which has more than 44,000 personnel.

The wisdom of Williams’ remarks resonated with Tayler Wennick, a senior civil engineering major who is charting her own course for success thanks to RISE. 

“RISE has given me the tools and resources to succeed both academically and professionally. The workshops, group sessions and tutoring provided me opportunities to grow as a student, especially when I was struggling through some calculus classes as a freshman,” she said.

Wennick has secured a summer internship at Bechtel Corp., a global leader in engineering, procurement and construction management, and will return to UD this fall to begin a graduate degree in structural engineering. 

According to Marianne Johnson, RISE academic program coordinator, Wennick and Williams exemplify how the program provides students skills to achieve immediate academic goals, as well as future goals that may seem unattainable early on.

“Our mission is to increase the number of engineers from underrepresented backgrounds. Communities here and abroad are made up of people from various backgrounds. It is critical that engineers, who provide practical solutions for many of our daily functions, be representative of the communities they serve,” Johnson said.

In concluding her keynote remarks, Williams assured the students that they were ready to succeed, saying, “I know that with hard work, investment and commitment to the process; honing the right skill set; self-analysis; surrounding yourself with mentors who will groom you; a great support system; and faith in what you plan to accomplish — you are ready to take flight.”

Class of 2013 RISE seniors include:

  • Eric Dahl and Manuela Tchouateu (chemical engineering);
  • Zachary Adcock, Eambuyu Akapelwa, Douglas Fernandez, Douglas Marsan, Lorraine Salamanca, Shaun Saunders, Tayler Wennick and Jordan Wynn (civil and environmental engineering);
  • Geoffrey Johnson (electrical and computer engineering); and
  • Daniel Baumzweig, Paul Ojewoye, Marcel Okoli, Edward Skolcik, Micah Uzuh and Marcus Whichett (mechanical engineering).

About RISE

Created in 1972, the RISE program supports traditionally underrepresented student groups to earn engineering degrees. More than 525 students have completed baccalaureate degrees through careful guidance and mentoring from RISE staff since the program’s inception. RISE students now comprise approximately 10 percent of the College of Engineering undergraduate population and boast retention rates on par with the broader college. 

Article by Karen Roberts and Gregory Holt

Photos by Doug Baker

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