Meet Clinique, The First Black Woman To Earn a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from Michigan

Clinique is AMAZING. She is a respected engineer, world traveler, and excellent friend. In 2012, Clinique became the first Black woman to earn a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. Through her accomplishments she has created a pipeline that allowed people like me to follow in her footsteps. Since the day I met her she has been a friend, role-model, and ally. She is currently a Principal Engineer at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA. Learn more about her journey below!

Name: Clinique L. Brundidge, PhD

Hometown: I’m originally from Orlando, Florida, but was raised in a suburb of Detroit

Current Occupation: Principal Engineer at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory

Undergraduate Institution & Major: University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Materials Science and Engineering

Graduate Institution & Major: University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Materials Science and Engineering

The field of Materials Science and Engineering (MS&E) is very small. How did you become interested?

While my father worked at General Motors as a manufacturing engineer, I would periodically visit the plants and became fascinated with metallurgy and mechanical engineering principles.

How was your undergraduate experience at the University of Michigan? Did you have enough support and mentorship?

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to matriculate through the undergraduate engineering program at the University of Michigan, while concurrently competing for the University’s Women’s Swimming and Diving Team. Michigan has a variety of excellent resources that allowed me to excel and expand my knowledge of engineering and science. Organizations such as the Michigan Materials Society, Minority Engineering Program Office, and the National Society of Black Engineers (Michigan Chapter) provided tremendous support and compassionate mentors.

You decided to stay at Michigan for your PhD. What factors influenced that decision?

I was very intrigued with the metallurgical research of a renowned University of Michigan professor, Dr. Tresa Pollock.  She gave me the opportunity to work on an exciting structural materials research problem that involved various areas within metallurgical engineering. I immediately became interested in enrolling in the University’s PhD program and conduct research in her group when funding became available.  It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience to make progress in the area of mechanical and environmental performance of materials subjected to extreme environments.  I had superb mentors and role models from the group that allowed me to deliver high-quality presentations all over the world, and successfully defend my PhD thesis.

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How did your undergraduate and graduate experiences compare?

Both undergraduate and graduate experiences were rewarding, but different in a few ways. I was much more focused on academic performance as an undergraduate engineer at the University. I maintained a rigorous academic and athletic schedule, and utilized as many University resources as possible.  Alternatively, my graduate experienced centered on expanding my knowledge of MS&E principles and successfully performing independent research.  Additionally, I was able to serve in more leadership and mentor roles as a graduate student.

What were some challenges and obstacles you faced during graduate school? How did you overcome them?

Thankfully, I had an outstanding support network during my graduate study that allowed me have a relatively stress-free experience.  Dr. Pollock gave me the tools to consistently produce exemplary journal papers and impressive presentations to international audiences.  However, midway through my graduate matriculation, Dr. Pollock accepted a prestigious position at the University of California – Santa Barbara.  Fortunately, Dr. Pollock was able to continue her advisor role while I remained at the University of Michigan and completed the requirements of my degree.  This transition encouraged me to be more proactive and independent to finish my requirements without any delays to my targeted graduation date.

You were the first Black, Female to earn a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan. How do you feel about the legacy you’ve left behind? What does it mean for future generations?

I’m very proud of this accomplishment and it would not have been possible without the numerous resources available at the University.  Dr. Jonathan Madison and Dr. Obi Ezekoye were both exceptional African-American male MS&E graduate students that motivated me and provided generous advice.  By following in their footsteps, I was able to serve in numerous leadership positions and mentor other African-American graduate and undergraduate students. I was delighted when more African-Americans successfully graduated from MS&E graduate program—especially Dr. Aeriel Murphy-Leonard.  I hope that I have helped establish a pipeline for African-American men and women to successfully obtain a PhD.  I continue to support the increase of African-American PhDs into the workforce by serving in a recruiting role at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory (NNL).

Did you face any challenges transitioning from graduate school to your current job?

At NNL, I’m able to use the tools that I gained from my graduate studies to support the design and development of nuclear core reactors for nuclear-powered war ships.  Since majority of my fundamental research on developing structural materials for nuclear core reactors is classified, I’m only able to present a small portion of the exciting research developments at annual international conferences.  However, I’ve been able to continue to make progress to the nuclear materials field by serving on committees, and serving as a peer reviewer for metallurgical engineering journals.

Being a woman of color in a white, male dominated field is challenging. How do you make sure you have a seat at the table?

I’m currently the only black, woman engineer at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory’s Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory site.  In fact, there are not many women engineers in my department either! Luckily, senior management recognizes this problem, and they have provided me with ample resources and opportunities to advance my career.  I continuously try to make technical and non-technical connections with my white, male counterparts.  I’ve joined numerous organizations to obtain more visibility within the company such as the Diversity Council, Toastmasters International, Women in Nuclear and a technical innovations team.  I’ve been given many opportunities to deliver time-sensitive, mission-critical information to NNL senior management, the Admiral of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, and the United States Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry.

You’re very close to your family. Despite your busy life you seem to put them first. Why is that important to you?

I have an enormous family that has encouraged and supported me throughout my athletic career and matriculation at the University of Michigan. Even though my family is spread out all over the country, I strive to maintain strong connections with each person and provide support when I can.  I have continuously strived to make a better life for myself than my family has made for me to continue our family legacy.

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With all your experiences what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I wish had more industry and/or undergraduate research experience by the time I was 21 years old and approaching graduation.  With that experience, I would have been in a better position to make progress in the MS&E field.  However, I’m content with the choices that I made and understand that my past experiences have shaped the success that I have achieved today.

 

 

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