ASU grad amplifies underrepresented voices in engineering
Fantasi Nicole brings a unique perspective to engineering, and she has spent her academic career amplifying other underrepresented voices in her field.
“Being a Black womxn in engineering is important because we have different perspectives of what constitutes problems, solutions and improvements than others. These perspectives can lend to solving problems that others did not know existed,” she says. “It is important for the advancement of society for it to be inclusive and equitable of the Black womxn and others who occupy engineering spaces.”
She chose to study at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University for her doctorate because she wanted to engage in research that “married social justice, racial and gendered equity and engineering to produce transformative change.”
Her dissertation, “Murder, Liberation and Art in the Engineering Ivory,” focuses on Black women's “reflections on their spirit-murdering experiences in engineering doctoral programs through arts-based and Black feminist methodologies.”
“Spirit-murdering” is a term that represents the enduring impacts of personal, psychological and spiritual harm inflicted particularly on Black students. For her dissertation, Nicole sought out practices and policies that contribute to spirit-murdering experiences of Black women who are pursuing or have completed engineering doctoral degrees.
Nicole explores their experiences and intellectual contributions in her dissertation through the composite character Marvilous Marie, named after her mother and grandmother. Her story is that of a Black woman who experienced the drive to be an inspiration to her community by earning a doctoral degree. However, in her pursuit of this goal, she encountered many programmatic and social barriers to success that also impacted her physical, mental and emotional health.
This story also mirrors Nicole’s own academic journey. She recalls being told she wouldn’t survive engineering as a first-year undergraduate student with a 1.92 GPA. Since then, Nicole has overcome adversity to empower herself and her “homegirls,” women from similar backgrounds she stands up for.
Nicole’s advisor, Assistant Professor Brooke Coley, has been part of her healing journey as well as a great inspiration to expand her critical thinking skills and make an impact.
Her goal is to inform ways to disrupt harmful practices and reimagine policies to enable a healing and supportive environment for all who experience spirit-murdering while pursuing advanced degrees in engineering. As higher education institutions strive to improve diversity and inclusivity, Nicole believes telling Black women’s lived experiences as doctoral students is an important contribution to the conversation.
Nicole has found many ways to make a difference outside of her doctoral work. She helped her academic community as a teaching assistant for an engineering education systems and design seminar course and inspired the next generation of engineers as a counselor and mentor for the ENGagED research experience for undergraduates.
As a member of the Beta Mu Sigma Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Nicole regularly volunteers for activities, including feminine hygiene drives, feeding the homeless, an annual youth symposium and Swim 1922, a campaign in partnership with USA Swimming to teach water safety and swimming. She also serves as the co-advisor of the Beta Pi Collegiate Chapter on the ASU campus.
Graduating from ASU is the latest achievement in a long line of Nicole’s academic successes. She has now earned a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctoral degree in engineering and engineering education fields at four different universities. She has also worked in industry at TK Elevator, Ford Motor Company and Honeywell.
She plans to continue working with Honeywell as a project engineer while working on her entrepreneurial endeavors as a plus-size model, podcast host, public speaker, consultant and media personality.
“I aspire to help transform engineering by cultivating communities of equity-minded, social-justice-oriented and critically innovative engineers who create products and services to better the lives of others,” she says.
Engineering has taught Nicole many things, perhaps the most important being that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
“Here I am, four degrees later and speaking at my PhD hooding ceremony,” she says. “Obtaining this degree has been an inspiration for many of my family and friends. I am a first-generation college student who is a Black womxn from the country in Mississippi. If I can make it, so can they.”