Graduation at UW-Madison
Engineering a Great Education
|Coty Weathersby, a UW-Madison PEOPLE Scholar
received her chemical engineering degree in
May at the Kohl Center.
class and this one guy shoots his hand up saying, ‘I got something different.’ My professor put both on the board and it turns out that mine was the most
correct one, but they were both correct. The answer wasn’t correct until someone else had it. I remember that just happening the first couple of days as a
student. I had to learn not to think that way and to learn, ‘Yes, I can persevere.’”
Through the PEOPLE program, Weathersby had participated in the Engineering Summer Program that has exposed her to the College of Engineering and it
eventually led to Weathersby finding a place she felt familiar with.
“The PEOPLE program had a requirement of either doing research my freshman year or doing a first year interest group as a way for students to get to know
people” Weathersby said. “I decided to do research. Thanks again to PEOPLE for engineering. I looked at the book of labs open to freshmen and I saw one
that looked familiar. ‘I saw this lab. I toured this lab a summer ago. Let me apply to this lab.’ I applied to the lab, interviewed and got it.’ I was in a research
lab and I was a freshman. I didn’t know how to do research. I didn’t know any of it. But the lab and the graduate students did a good job of telling me that you
have a problem. You have a hypothesis. Now it’s up to you to do the research, learn what you need to learn so that you can start solving this problem. The
actual practical experience of knowing that I have a problem that needs to be solved without knowing how to solve it set me up to do well as a researcher
and to do well in engineering because that is what engineering comes down to. A lot of times, you have a problem that you don’t quite know how to solve, but
we know basic formulas and know how to problem solve.”
Weathersby's PEOPLE program cohort and friends also helped her remain rooted and confident.
“I definitely had to make sure that I was staying in touch with PEOPLE,” Weathersby said. “There were a couple of PEOPLE students in engineering. I linked
up with my PEOPLE people who were engineers. Engineering can be isolating because physically I was on the other side of campus a lot. But I still had time
with my PEOPLE people who were engineers. Also with PEOPLE, you get free printing. I was always stopping at the PEOPLE office for printing. And when
you stop there for printing, you see Goodson in the office. We would talk and I would talk with everyone else I would see. I would find out about a luncheon or
an event and I could sign up for that while I was there. Physically stopping in the office to print allowed me to connect with everyone else.”
Weathersby also developed ties within the engineering department that allowed her to succeed and learn new skills to boot.
“I joined the National Society of Black Engineers,” Weathersby said. “I was also involved in the National Organization for Professional Advancement of Black
Chemists and Chemical Engineers. We actually didn’t exist on campus, but my freshman year, I was told I was going to be the treasurer because there were
only three of us. I had never been treasurer before. I learned how to write a grant and being in a leadership role so quickly helped me grow up a bit. I had to
learn how to manage my classes. It made me a better student for future years.”
Weathersby has found a home at the UW-Madison College of Engineering. She won’t be going anywhere this fall.
“My immediate plans are to enter the master’s program in the fall,” Weathersby said. “I’ll be here at UW-Madison and I’ll actually be working in the same lab. I’
m looking to do it in waste water treatment. I’m not quite sure exactly what the focus of my master’s thesis will be. Hopefully I will decide what I want my
master’s thesis project to look like this summer. I may continue my work with my bioreactor and with the anammox bacteria I am looking at. I’m still figuring
that out. Long-term, I might want to pursue a Ph.D. and be a researcher. That’s an option. Or I may want to go work on water problems.”
Coty Weathersby has stood on the shoulders of others to earn her chemical engineering degree at UW-Madison. And soon, she will be ready for her younger
siblings and others to stand on her shoulders on the way to fulfilling their talent and dreams.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
When Coty Weathersby received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering this past May at the
Kohl Center, one could say that she was standing on the shoulders of other people in her life who
blazed the trail for her and gave her the support she needed. And in some ways, Coty was standing on
the shoulders of the UW PEOPLE program as well.
When Weathersby entered UW-Madison as a PEOPLE Scholar majoring in chemical engineering, in
some ways, Weathersby had been shielded by the “whiteness” of the UW-Madison campus because
her time spent on campus was with other students and staff of color, for the most part, through
PEOPLE. Her first calculus class had been a shock.
“That was one of the first times that I actually started to doubt myself,” Weathersby said. “‘Hmmm, I’m
the only woman of color in my calculus class. How did that happen?’ When you start asking questions
about how that happened, it leads you down a long tangent of ‘maybe I shouldn’t come here. Maybe I’m
not that good.’ And then you also had systems of sexism not spoken, but built into the world. I didn’t
experience that growing up, but I was experiencing that now. They aren’t joking when they say that
‘mansplaining’ was present. People were trying to explain things to you as if you don’t already
understand it because we took all the same classes. I remember giving an answer in my calculus