When young people see others who look like them in diverse careers, they’re more likely to see that as a pathway for themselves, says Kianjai Huggan ’20 (ENG), ’22 MENG.
“I am passionate about creating culturally responsive spaces and providing access to opportunities to underrepresented groups,” says the Danbury resident, who’s worked for Black Girls CODE to promote better inclusion in STEM professions and served as co-president of the UConn Graduate Students of Color Association. During her time at UConn, Huggan started Sisters in STEM through the Vergano Institute for Inclusion to show 10th grade Black, Latinx, and Indigenous womxn, a term meant for gender inclusivity, there is a place for them alongside her in science and technology fields.
“The motivation behind the conference was to create a space where students could see themselves represented,” she says. “It became a space for them to meet role models, go on laboratory tours, engage in experiments and self-development workshops.”
Why did you choose UConn?
I chose UConn because of the large campus and various opportunities. I went to high school in a small town and wanted to be somewhere that was active with many student communities. The BRIDGE program and engineering learning community were big selling points in my decision to commit to UConn.
What’s your major and why did you choose it?
My current academic program is the Master of Engineering in Global Entrepreneurship. I chose this program because of the opportunities I had during my undergrad at UConn, where I majored in computer science and engineering (CSE). I chose CSE initially because I had done robotics in high school and fell in love with the process of bringing technical ideas to life. In undergrad, I was exposed to many career possibilities through research and STEM outreach, which influenced my decision to create Webquity, an education technology startup focused on providing digital accessibility tools. The master’s program provided a plethora of resources and avenues for support within the School of Engineering.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I will be attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the Learning Design, Innovation, and Technology Master program. I am passionate about using technology as a lever for positive, inclusive change within the education space to increase access to educational opportunities.
What activities were you involved with as a student?
I was a member of Engineering Ambassadors, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers throughout my undergrad, serving in various leadership roles. In pursuing my graduate degree, I am currently co-president of the Graduate Students of Color Association.
How has UConn prepared you for the next chapter in life?
UConn provided me exposure to pathways I was unaware of and opportunities I had not expected to have. My time at UConn has prepared me to take advantage of opportunities, the value of finding and creating community, and maintaining a growth mindset.
What’s one thing that surprised you about UConn?
I was surprised by all of the exciting research at UConn. Notable projects that surprised me were a 3D Chocolate Printer, a STEM Tree, the robotics labs, and 3D Printing Breast Implants. The experienced faculty guide students in conducting fun, cutting-edge research.
Any advice for incoming first-year students?
My advice for incoming first-year students is to be open. It is great to come in with goals and a vision for yourself, but do not let it limit you. Open yourself up to new experiences, learn about various cultures, and step out of your comfort zone. There are plenty of opportunities to do that here.
What’s one thing every student should do during their time at UConn?
I think every student should visit Horsebarn Hill. I think it’s a nice place to take a break and see the beautiful view.
Who was your favorite professor and why?
My favorite professor was Dr. Stephany Santos. She taught us the importance of being able to communicate with various audiences, be aware of and unlearn our own biases, and that our impact is influenced by far more than just our technical acumen. I also appreciated that she provided the space and advocated for students to prioritize their well-being. I learned a lot more in her class through the examples that she set.
What’s one thing that will always make you think of UConn?
It is tough to choose one thing, but I’ll go with Huskies. As our mascot, it reminds me of the spirit behind the students at UConn. The spirit to speak up, advocate, and work hard.