Bordain graduates as ECE ILLINOIS' first female, African-American PhD

9/4/2015 Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS

Bordain became ECE ILLINOIS’ first female African American PhD graduate upon graduation this spring.

Written by Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS

When Yemaya Bordain (PhD ’15) graduated in the spring, she not only received her degree, she also broke a longstanding barrier.

Yemaya Bordain
Yemaya Bordain

Bordain became ECE ILLINOIS’ first female African-American PhD graduate.

“It struck a chord with me that ECE ILLINOIS would not graduate its first female African-American PhD until 2015,” Bordain said. “Acknowledging this reality, however, inspired me to not only tap as many resources as possible to succeed, but also to bring my experiences, triumphs, and concerns to the department and the College of Engineering in order to facilitate a more supportive and welcoming environment for those who would be following in my footsteps.”

Even before coming to Illinois, she felt the support of the community when the late Mechanical Science and Engineering Professor Mark Shannon recruited her with the intention of helping her from both an educational and financial standpoint.

“Professor Shannon did everything in his power to ensure that I was financially supported for graduate school,” Bordain said. “He reviewed my fellowship applications, provided critical feedback, and even offered to provide funding for my PhD studies if I did not win any of the external funding for which I applied. Fortunately, I won all of them.”

Bordain worked in nanotechnology with a focus on atomic force microscopy. Her research examined the nanoscale electrical characterization of conducting material by measuring the long-range forces within surfaces. 

She credits her adviser, Professor Gang Logan Liu, for making her academic accomplishments possible. With his encouragement, Bordain was able to create an appropriate work-life balance to make time to be both a wife and a mother to her family.

However, perhaps her greatest impact on the campus will be the efforts she made toward creating a more inclusive environment for minorities in the College of Engineering.

Bordain helped co-found the Graduate Engineers Diversifying Illinois (GEDI) student organization. While serving as its vice-president for two years, she and her colleagues helped mentor new graduate students and helped recruit under-represented communities into the College of Engineering.

Along with the founding of GEDI, she also served on an Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Committee, which developed recommendations for Dean Andreas C Cangellaris that could be implemented at Illinois to make the campus more diverse.

 She even found time, between her research, to spend her summers assisting Professor Lynford L Goddard as the graduate coordinator of the Girls Learning Electrical Engineering Camp (GLEE) camp. In this role, she helped encourage high school women to develop an interest in engineering through experiments and engaging lectures.

After graduating, Bordain moved to Chandler, Ariz., to work as an Internet of Things (IoT) engineer for Intel. In this position, she works to create solutions for smart devices that will help improve the efficiency of a variety of industries including health care and manufacturing.

As she progresses in her career, Bordain aims to be an inspiration for other under-represented groups to overcome the stigma associated with engineering and pursue both technical and non-technical innovations.

“I hope to help young women, under-represented minorities, and members of financially disadvantaged communities engage in engineering,” Bordain said. “Their unique perspectives will lead to divergent thinking and facilitate innovation. I have developed many of the necessary tools to accomplish my goals while in graduate school at Illinois.”

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This story was published September 4, 2015.