Alumni Spotlight: Lakim J. Desir ’15

Binghamton University alumnus Lakim J. Desir ’15 was recently named the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year at the BEYA STEM conference.

Desir grew up in Queens and discovered his passion for engineering through the influence of a mentor at a young age. He remembers the profound effect his mentor had on his life and strives to fulfill that same role for other underrepresented children.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science, Desir began working in Moorestown, NJ, at Lockheed Martin, one of the nation’s leading aerospace and defense companies. After seven years at Lockheed, he is transitioning to a new opportunity at Deloitte.

QUESTION: How does it feel to receive the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year Achievement Award?

TO RESPOND: It’s a very surreal moment for me. My insight as an engineer as well as my personal development stem from my time in Binghamton. To be nominated and then to win is something that is very humbling, and I am certainly grateful for that.

I’ve been with Lockheed Martin for seven years, where I had the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology and community outreach. Lockheed Martin sponsored me to be nominated for Black Engineer of the Year, which is a national award. The board determined the winner based on those who have had a great social impact on the community as well as identifying some of the impacts we may have had on the business.

Q: How did you discover industrial and systems engineering?

A: I really like to tell the story of my journey to engineering. I come from a generally underfunded community in Queens. I’ve always had a strong sense of math and science in a way where I felt like things fell into place for me in this world. At a very young age, a mentor in my life identified that I had this skill set and introduced me to engineering. At the time, I didn’t know what engineering was – it wasn’t even a thought for me. Having this connection with this mentor, I went to an engineering trade school in high school, which exposed me to the principles of engineering.

At that time, I recognized that engineering disciplines are really needed in this world. After that, I knew I wanted to be an engineer. I chose industrial and systems engineering because of my affinity for people and processes and for understanding how to make processes more efficient while eliminating waste.

Having a mentor at a young age taught me the concept of representation and its importance. It also planted the seed for me to feel a deep obligation to serve a community like mine. I recognize that if my mentor had not contacted me, it is very likely that my path would not have been engineering. As I grew and succeeded in my career, I always remembered those times when my mentor stepped up – that’s certainly why I have such an affinity for helping develop the skills of youth.

Q: What are some of the ways you give back to the community?

A: One of my goals is to enable young people to be exposed to engineering in a way that allows them to understand the STEM field and that being in STEM is a viable career option for them. While at Lockheed Martin, I hosted an annual STEM day by partnering with some schools in the Morristown area. About 350 young people have come in five years to show them our engineering laboratories, show them around our facilities and introduce them to engineers.

This is something I did on my own initiative — I thought it was my main responsibility. When I walked through the halls of Lockheed Martin, I wanted to see more blacks and browns. I wanted to allow young children to have access to what it looks like in this amazing facility with some of the most advanced technology.

In March 2020, through our partnerships with neighboring schools, Urban Promise School in Camden, NJ contacted me and let me know that they did not have the technology infrastructure to allow their students to working remotely due to the pandemic. At that time there was great uncertainty, so it was a huge challenge. Some students did not have laptops at home. Camden is a very little known city in which the population is generally impoverished. For me, it was a deep responsibility to find ways to provide them with the learning resources they needed.

In four days, I was able to get $20,000 worth of learning resources for this school. I spent those days on the phone, contacting my friends and family, and was able to create this fund. It was one of the greatest displays of camaraderie – although there were so many people in need at that time, there were also so many people willing to give. I recognized that I wanted to be the connective tissue of those in need and those who are willing to give.

Q: Why did you decide to attend Binghamton University to get your bachelor’s degree?

A: Initially, I started my college education in Vermont at St. Michael’s College. I was a young boy from Queens who hadn’t been exposed to much of the world outside of New York. At that time, I had no idea how to handle what felt like such a drastic culture shock. St. Michael’s College is a liberal arts college, so I was already stepping away from engineering by even going there.

I decided to leave that school and go to a school that I knew had a highly ranked and recognized engineering program. The transfer to Binghamton was an opportunity for me to correct coursework, to choose a program in which I would be able to make the most of my work while having diversity on campus.

Q: In what ways do you think Binghamton helped prepare you for your career?

A: For anyone who has gone through the Watson programs, they understand the unique challenges associated with being a Watson student. It’s incredibly rigorous. When I came to Binghamton and started these engineering classes, I struggled academically. I remember continually going to office hours for every teacher. I recognized that my learning style just needed to be reinforced. It taught me this idea of ​​doing repetitions – continual repetitions until you really understand.

I had a lot of trouble getting an engineering internship because of my studies. I was hesitant on this line to have a 3.0 GPA. I once went to Professor Peter Borgesen’s office and asked him if he had room in his lab for me to do some research with him. He looked at me and said, “Are you ready now? Are you ready to walk with me to my lab and start doing lab research? »

It was a critical moment for me. Although I did not do an internship, by doing research with a very renowned professor, I was able to develop strong skills. I took this opportunity the same day – I went to his research lab.

Professor Borgesen has been a mentor to me throughout my time at Binghamton. I conducted research for him for about a year and a half, which eventually resulted in an article published for a journal. I learned a really valuable lesson, and that was really taking advantage of the opportunity when presented to you.

Q: What advice would you give to other black engineering students based on your experience?

A: It is often very discouraging to be in a space where you are underrepresented. Often this leads to self-doubt and negative thoughts, which in turn begin to affect work relationships and overall self-confidence. I would tell students to identify where you think you can add the most value. Take a look at some of the things you find most rewarding and do more.

Another thing I would emphasize is that it’s important to admit that you don’t know something. Often none of us really know anything. I had to deal with that. Once you have identified this, you are ready to be malleable and follow this journey to find the answers. Understand that there is value in not knowing and that the goal is to get closer and closer to discovering what you don’t know.

We can get discouraged when we feel like we don’t know something. What’s needed is that shift in perspective where we say, “I’m okay with not knowing. How can I put myself in a strategic position to start learning? There’s a certain level of humility associated with being able to recognize what you don’t know.

I would also encourage young black engineers to pursue organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers. Being a member of NSBE during my time in Binghamton allowed me to develop some really key relationships that I hold dear in my career as an engineer.

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