Student Defies The Odds To Fulfill Dream Of Becoming An Engineer
First-generation college student Celeste Lundy, who this month graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in chemical engineering and has landed a job with Dow Chemical, said her journey was far from easy. But encouragement from her mother, a drive to succeed and some help along the way paved the road.
While growing up in Houston, Lundy and her family lived in a hotel for two years. But despite such setbacks, she said her mother always encouraged her interests in chemistry and math.
“I remember my mother telling me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, and that stuck with me,” Lundy said.
Lundy’s mother enrolled her in the Houston Kincaid School’s Engineering, Math, and Science Institute, a free, three-year summer program that introduces minority students to opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math beginning the summer after their 8th grade year.
The experience deepened her interest in chemical engineering, Lundy said, so she applied to colleges that offered that major.
Texas A&M shot to the top of the list after a school counselor nominated Lundy for the Posse Foundation scholarship program and she was selected. That meant she would receive a full tuition scholarship and also have a dedicated Posse mentor to provide support and advice throughout her college years.
Lundy was also awarded a Terry Foundation Scholarship. The Houston-based foundation provides significant funding for traditional, first-time freshmen who graduate from a Texas high school.
“This meant I would not have to worry about how I was going to pay for my education,” she said. “It allowed me to focus my time on studying and pursuing things that interested me.”
Lundy said her freshman classes were a struggle and she often spent 12 hours or more completing assignments. She put pressure on herself to produce perfect work.
“I have always been hard working so when I started at Texas A&M, it wasn’t that big of a change for me,” Lundy said.
Still, navigating life as a first-generation, Black, female student in engineering at the nation’s largest university was daunting at times.
She said her mentor, Tanya Wickliff— a fellow Black woman in engineering and a Texas A&M professor of engineering practice — was a huge help. Lundy was Wickliff’s mentee through the Posse Foundation and also served as her teaching assistant.
“Being able to talk through my issues with someone who had been in a similar situation as me in the past has been a true blessing because a lot of her advice influenced how I got into my career now,” Lundy said.
One example was Lundy’s internship. She submitted more than 100 internship applications but had little follow up. She was selected by Dow, where Wickliff also had interned.
“I think being a first-generation student was more difficult than being a Black woman student,” Lundy said. “When it came to getting selected for internships, that is where being a first-generation student made the difference. I didn’t have the same connections as some of my peers, so making sure I stood out to recruiters was crucial.”
Lundy’s performance while a student led the chemical giant to offer her a full-time position after graduation, she said.
And even though she’s leaving Aggieland, she said her connections to her alma mater will remain strong no matter where her career path takes her.
“Texas A&M really is one big family,” Lundy said. “I’ve been walking around stores in my hometown and will recognize someone by their Aggie ring and will strike up a conversation.
“Looking back, there is no place I’d have rather spent my time than Texas A&M because it and the people are truly amazing.”