ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Friday, May 7, was a historical and memorable moment for South Carolina State University graduates Scott Stephens II and Ariyonne Gillespie as they became the university’s first graduates to receive bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Engineering (IE).
Stephens, 27, is a native of Orangeburg who worked full time at several warehouses while attending SC State. In 2019, he landed an industrial engineering internship at Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, defense, space and security systems.
Stephens has always been interested in and curious about manufacturing. He said when he was doing research on industrial engineering, he liked how it gave insight on what goes on behind the scenes of warehousing, operations and logistics.
Scott Stephens II
“I knew I always wanted to do engineering. I initially started in nuclear engineering, but I was unsure if I wanted to do that, so when I was presented the opportunity to go into the industrial field and they explained to me that nobody was doing it yet, I did some research to see how it would fit me,” Stephens said. “I’ve been doing warehousing for about seven years and this field gave me the behind the scenes look of it, so I felt like it fit me the best.”
He is currently interning at Hubbell Incorporated as a manufacturing engineer. Hubbell is an industrial manufacturing company that works with various partners and distributors to provide high quality equipment to their customers.
“What I’m doing now is like the brains behind manufacturing, understanding the process and what operators are doing, what you’re shipping out, what your building — things like that,” Stephens said. “Everything I’ve learned in my degree is actually geared towards what I’m doing now. So, I’m helping out by cutting down the costs of different processes, cost savings and things like that.”
He credited his classmate, Gillespie, and some of his professors, Dr. Jae Hong, Dr. Samuel Littlejohn and Professor Derral Linder, for pushing and motivating him. Even though Stephens worked full time, his professors were understanding and able to work with him. In August, Stephens will be accepting a full-time position at Boeing.
“My professors played a major part, they stayed on me — countless hours, helping me out behind the scenes and pushing me to be a better student,” Stephens said.
Gillespie, 23, grew up in San Diego, California. She was introduced to the engineering field in high school when one of her college-prep classes featured guest speakers from the STEM program.
“As they were speaking on the engineering field, I took much interest in it, because it was just more challenging and hands-on,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie’s career goal is to work for a company that manufactures airplanes. She said her first choice would be Boeing, but she would be satisfied with working at any airplane or car manufacturing company.
“I did an internship with Boeing and I really enjoyed it, so that is why I wanted to use my degree towards working on planes. Learning a little bit more about it, I know that there’s also a small similarity in cars. So, manufacturing cars is kind of the next step if I’m not able to work with Boeing,” she said.
During her tenure at SC State, Gillespie was the freshman class vice president, senator for her sophomore class and became a member of the SGA her junior year. Between being a student athlete and an active member of multiple clubs and organizations on campus, Gillespie had a busy schedule.
Her days would start around 5 a.m. and end anywhere between 10 p.m. and midnight depending on her assignments. She explained that even though she barely had a social life outside of school, it was worth it for the connections she was able to make in her classes and clubs on campus.
“I had teachers who saw me working hard in class, who worked with me and helped me study. My peers helped me all the time by getting me caught up when I would have to leave for track meets or whatever the case may be, they definitely helped a lot,” Gillespie said.
Along with Stephens, Dr. Hong, Dr. Littlejohn and Professor Linder also had a great impact on Gillespie’s academic career. Having supportive professors and peers helped her to persevere through her IE classes when she felt overwhelmed. Time management was another factor that helped Gillespie because it was important for her to stay active in everything that she was involved in.
“What I would say to other black women pursuing this field is, you got to start somewhere. Don’t get discouraged,” Gillespie said. “I feel like when you’re the first to do something, a lot of people aren’t going to be as motivated or have a positive mindset on it, but whatever you put your mind to, you can do it and succeed at it.”
SC State established the Industrial Engineering Technology (IET) program in the Fall of 1984 because of the lack of IE education at universities in the state and a shortage of modern industrial and manufacturing engineers in this country. The IET program was accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology in 1992.
In Fall 2015, SC State initiated the IE bachelor of science degree. There is still a shortage of industrial engineers, causing the demand for IE professions to be dramatically high. SC State continues to encourage students who are interested in engineering to take advantage of the program.
“All IE faculty want to congratulate them (Stephens and Gillespie), who are our first products, and wish them good luck for their bright future,” said Hong, distinguished professor and academic program coordinator of the IE program. “It has not been easy for the IE faculty, as well as two graduates, to make history. There have been many barriers, including several academic issues and even the COVID-19 pandemic, during the transitional period of moving from the IET program to the IE program.
“We all have worked hard to overcome such barriers to make history and finally make it as a team. I am so proud of our faculty and these two graduates,” he said.