Civil engineering student China Brown says being an engineer isn’t about knowing all the math and physics in the world.
“Being an engineer is coming together with men and women of all backgrounds, experiences, and diversities to share our ideas, to inspire each other as a team, to better our society,” says Brown.
With plans to graduate this semester and start full time at Shirley Construction in January, Brown has had a professional vocation since childhood, when her favorite TV show was Bob the Builder.
“I was always hands-on...I’d want to build stuff. I wore a little hard hat” she says. But even with a clear vision of what she wanted, Brown faced significant challenges on her way to becoming an engineer.
“I came from a single-parent household,” she explained. “We do not have the best financial circumstances, but I came to Mason to pursue my lifelong dream and finally can represent as a first-generation [college graduate], African American, woman civil engineer.”
Brown started at George Mason University in 2017 amidst a massive personal challenge that resulted in a sexual assault court case scheduled on her birthday, December 8—coinciding with her first spate of final exams. In addition, test anxiety led Brown to Mason’s disability services; after filing paperwork, she was able to find a testing environment that worked for her. She credits the support of her family, friends, coworkers, and professors for helping her reach her goals as a student, noting especially that her mother and sister’s support allowed her to study, travel, and participate in enriching extracurricular activities.
“Shirley gave me a chance at an internship...even though I didn’t have the greatest GPA,” she says. “Being there in the field and … asking questions … helped [me] so much [to] understand what it is to be an engineer.”
Brown’s enthusiasm for her work affirms her pursuit of engineering. When it comes to the job hunt, Brown advises fellow engineering students, “Don’t only focus on the amount of money you want to receive from a company but choose a place that will respect you and what you bring to the company. Go somewhere that you are comfortable and that will allow you to grow and enhance your educational opportunities.”
When asked what advice she had for prospective Mason engineering students, Brown emphasized the importance of patience and balance: “You don't have to be perfect, and your timing is your own. I started in 2017, and I'm graduating now, about five years [later].”
Brown also stresses the importance of persevering through difficult schoolwork: “Don’t be hard on yourself. Sometimes things may not come to you as easily as to others, but that doesn’t mean you are not capable of being successful.”
Dr. Doaa Bondok, an assistant professor of structural engineering who has taught Brown in several classes, says, "Ms. Brown is one of the most dedicated students I have taught. She stands out because of her communication and organizational skills, mental toughness, and humble personality. China has all it takes to start her career as a successful civil engineer."
In a few years, Brown plans to return to Mason for a business degree and ultimately open her own residential building company. Someday she may be hiring Mason interns of her own!