Moving full S.T.E.A.M. ahead with Mabel Bakali!
Temple Univeristy, Mechanical Engineer, Spring 2018
Mabel Bakali, who proudly hails from West Philadelphia, always had a passionate interest in both science and art.
The twenty-three year old, 2018, Temple University Engineering graduate was blessed with both beauty and brains.
Bakali is a shining example of what hard work, determination, and a can-do attitude will get you.
Recently, this super busy graduate took time out to share a little about her life, education, career and community aspirations.
Q. Please tell me about yourself, your family, and growing up in Philly?
A. I’m 23 years old, and no, I was actually born in Malawi, a country in south east Africa. My parents moved to Philadelphia when I was three years old to pursue more educational and academic opportunities.
Q. Wow! That’s amazing, that means your parents made a 7,825 mile journey and made extraordinary sacrifices for your education and future. Are you an only child?
A. No, I’m the oldest. I have a three brothers, one is 21 and the twins are 9. My mother worked as a nanny and my father worked as a laborer. Yes, they worked very hard to give us access to a better education and opportunities.
Q. During your elementary years, where did you attend school?
A. Initially, I attended the Lewis C. Cassidy School, in Philadelphia. In the third or forth grade, I was tested and accepted into the gifted program, and shortly after that, one of my teachers recommended me to the Steppingstone Scholars Program. The Steppingstone Scholars program provided me with academic enrichment, and then, I was accepted into The Baldwin School, an all-girls independent school in Bryn Mawr.
Q. Yes, The Steppingstone Scholars Organization is a wonderful pipeline program. And attending a prestigious prep school like Baldwin must have also opened many doors for you. Did you feel academically prepared for college? What was your experience like?
A. Yes, Baldwin absolutely prepared me for college. I went to Baldwin from the 6th-12th grades, and the rigorous academics, research papers, and technical writing really prepared me for college.
Q. What about standardized tests, did you feel prepared taking the SAT or ACT exams?
A. Yes, I took both the SAT and the ACT and did well on both. I applied to and was accepted at Boston University, New York University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Parsons School of Design.
Q. That’s an impressive list of schools, but in the end, you choose to stay local, why?
A. It’s complicated. The financing was challenging for me, but my best friend’s mother said the most important thing about college is getting an education. So, the first year I was an undecided major, and then I spent time at the Tyler School of Art. I love science and art, but the program at Tyler wasn’t exactly what I wanted. So, I went into mechanical engineering where I could make a marriage of the artistic and the technical.
Q. It’s wonderful that you were adaptable and aware of how various careers intersected and the things that could/can be done. Having a great imagination and resilience have served you well. What are a few books that really influenced your life?
A. The first book is the Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. I really like Shonda, she’s a black woman, and she dominates in her market.
I’m also a big fan of Upile Chisala, a Malawian writer and poet.
Q. What advise would you give a middle or high school student who wants to follow a similar path as you?
A. I would say to start carving time out of their day to work on their craft. I wish I knew to do that when I was younger. You have to learn how to prioritize your time to advance your skills. Get into the zone!
Find people, mentors, and family that support the work you want to do. Being nerdy or being into your academics is sometimes stigmatized, but stay with it.
Q. What types of classes should middle and high school students take to prepare for engineering in college?
A. Be prepared with lots of math, science, algebra, physics, and calculus.
Q. Who were some of your mentors along the way?A. I have so many mentors. Even my roommates dad was a mentor. My roommates dad was a spiritual mentor and he helped to give me perspective. Mr. Joel from TechCORE2 was always good for a history lesson, and even my roommates are my friends and mentors.
Q. What are your interest outside of school and career?
A. Spending time with my family, and especially with my brothers. I also read, write, explore art and exercise a lot.
Q. What are your thoughts on community and giving back?
A. One of my biggest priorities is to create educational opportunities for low-income students. It makes me really sad that the Philadelphia School District suffers so much. As I create a path for myself, I envision how I can build a level of success and go back to the public schools with resources. When you don’t feel invested in, you don’t feel valued. I want them to know that they are someone of value, and that they have something to give to the world.
Q. Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
A. In five years, I hope to be working for a transportation engineering firm. Specifically, I’m looking into locomotives and autonomous vehicle technology.
Q. What qualities make a good engineer and why?
A. To be a good engineer requires curiosity, patience, persistence, and creativity. We solve problems by asking questions, and that means staying curious. Patience is really important, because the work can be extremely frustrating. Things take time. Persistence means you will never give up, and creativity will make you stand out.