Former QoLT REU Student Elected National Chairperson of NSBE-Quality of Life Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Former QoLT REU Student Elected National Chairperson of NSBE

Sossena Wood NSBE National Chairperson 2013Sossena Cherise Wood, a former student of the Quality of Life Technology Center’s (QoLT) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program and currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, will serve as National Chairperson of NSBE, the National Society of Black Engineers, for a one year term. She is only the sixth woman to head the society since the organization’s founding in the 1970s.

Sossena Wood was an intern in the QoLT Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in Summer 2011. The program engages undergraduate students in cross-disciplinary research in Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) where they learn how to relate human functions (physiological, physical, social, and cognitive) to the design of intelligent devices and systems that aid and interact with people.

As a QoLT REU intern, Sossena worked under the guidance of Dr. Dan Ding on the Cueing Kitchen, a kitchen enhanced with sensor technology, robotics, computer vision and software applications to support people with cognitive difficulties such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The Cueing Kitchen is an enabling space that is aware of its occupant’s activities, able to understand if s/he is having difficulty with a task, and can provide various forms of prompting to keep the user on task through successful completion of various instrumental activities of daily living.

Wood recalls that her experiences in the REU program exposed her to what it would be like to become a researcher, a potential graduate student, as well as a skilled speaker. She explains, “I remember frequently having visitors to the lab and always being prompted to share with anyone (regardless of their knowledge base) the purpose of the Cueing Kitchen and its current state. I valued being able to share verbally what I was learning with others in a cool setting. That experience allowed me to temporarily be the teacher!”

sossena wood as an reu studentWood states that her participation in the QoLT REU program helped inspire and support her pursuit of graduate studies in engineering at The University of Pittsburgh. Her REU research resulted in a second place award in the PhD category of the 35th Annual National GEM Consortium's Technical Research Exhibition in August of 2011 – despite the fact that she had not yet started her own doctoral program studies. The following year, Wood went on to receive the 2012 GEM fellowship from the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science. Each year only 100 students are chosen nationwide for this fellowship to further their studies in graduate education.

Wood, who is also now a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Society of Women Engineers, remarks: “Research is a valuable skillset that allows one to find new discoveries within a field that could educate the culture and society. Personally, it is a skill that has given me more opportunities than I would have ever imagined for myself 5 years ago when I was a freshman in engineering. Today I am both a full time doctoral student as well as National Chairperson of the National Society of Black Engineers.”

NSBE’s goal is to increase the numbers of blacks enrolling in engineering programs by providing support to retain them at the college level and grow their ranks in the profession. The organization currently serves 29,000 members worldwide and includes high school and college students and professionals.

Wood first became involved in NSBE as a junior undergraduate studying electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. She joined the local chapter based at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering and eventually became its president before accepting additional NSBE positions at the regional and national levels.

Wood with NSBE SEEK Program StudentsAs National Chairperson for NSBE, Wood serves as a role model and mentor for students from backgrounds underrepresented in science and engineering. She embodies the accomplishment potential of women in engineering while also working from an experiential learning perspective in QoLT that favors universal design as a means of optimizing the interactive relationships between engineered systems and the people of all ages or abilities who will use them. Her strong leadership skills, focus and confidence have been recognized; Wood sets challenging goals and works hard to achieve them.

Wood’s service actively demonstrates a desire and determination to give back to the learning communities that have helped her excel. As National Chairperson, her objectives include improving NSBE members’ visibility by showcasing their innovative accomplishments to business executives in the workforce and promotion of STEM careers among K-12 students through programs such as SEEK – a Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) – which is a NSBE-run first all-girls engineering camp for students in grades 3-8 that features a parent orientation component to maximize success.

Wood asserts that her experience with the QoLT REU program will continue to assist her today in her position of leadership at NSBE. “We are entering into a new era of Big Data and it is very popular for a company to know and analyze its data. During my tenure as Chairperson of NSBE, I am leading our organization to accurately define the data that is most prevalent to us as an organization. We want to be able to determine if our efforts result in the organization being able to move the needle to accomplishing our mission which is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. My experience at QoLT taught me how to determine and analyze data to see the statistical significance of the data on a given population.”

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Photos from top: Sosenna Wood, National Chairperson for NSBE (photo courtesy of NSBE); Wood presents her Cueing Kitchen research at the 2011 QoLT REU Summer Symposium (photo by Kristen Sabol); Wood (shown at Center) with participants of NSBE's 2013 SEEK program in Jackson, Mississippi (photo courtesy of NSBE).

By: Kristen Sabol and Maria Milleville, millvill@pitt.edu, 412.822.3668