Brianna McCullough, a fellow 9-5’er and writer is only 23 with about 30 years of experience under her belt. We connected through Instagram where she’s since blown me away with her maturity, kindness and most of all intelligence. She’s one of the young women that you don’t hear about who’s working quietly, but diligently to shatter glass ceilings. Brianna is currently a Integration Architect at 3M in Michigan quickly climbing the corporate ladder. Read more about her upbringing, overcoming adversity and women in STEM below –
You’re from metro Detroit where you grew up in an underprivileged household. A lot of times children only know what they see and don’t realize what opportunities are available to them outside of where they’re from. What made you aspire to be a doctor?
My mom has always taught me to dream beyond what you can see. So even though we didn’t have a lot financially, she made sure that she fulfilled us with experiences and resources such as knowledge and love. There is no limit to where you can go when you surround yourself with people who believe in you, especially your parents. The real reason I wanted to be a doctor was because I wanted to help people, I know that answer is generic but it’s true. I really didn’t know about the thousands of other occupations that I could have took up that would have allowed me to have the same goal until I got to college and was forced to explore other avenues.
Once you started college at Michigan State University , what made you change your mind about med school? Do you have any regrets?
NOPE! Not one single regret any day of my life. I walked away from something that was not FOR ME and I waited it out for a while before I actually let it go (3 years, and 84 college credits later). I did my best at something I was honestly not even interested in and once you do your best that is really all you can do. I did it to make people “proud” of me, and with that I risked my own mental sanity and happiness. I was forfeiting my right to be happy in efforts to please other people. I am not a quitter, I literally stick things out until the end so once I started seeing results that didn’t reflect the work that I was putting in, I knew it was time to explore other options.
Can you talk about your internship experience throughout college? Tell us what effect it had on you and why it’s important experience.
Intern, intern, intern! That is my motto for all the college kids that come to me for advice. Internships allowed me to see what I did, and did not like. Even if the internship is unpaid, you will be paid in experiences. I literally went to all kinds of gala and was even invited to the white house! I was blessed to have the opportunity to intern in Washington, DC on a scholarship as well as numerous internships in East Lansing, Mi which is where I attended college. Through internships, I have gained lifetime friends, mentors, connections and most importantly experience. I have to say the main thing I learned through interning was that you have OPTIONS. There’s so much out there that college kids don’t get to see because we’re always in someone’s classroom. Internships are what really turned my life around after changing my major and that is why I tell people explore your options.
What did being the only African American selected for an internship at the Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center tell you?
I think that getting that spot at the Lombardi Cancer Center proved to me that I am enough and it’s okay to pull up a seat to a table where sometimes others may feel that you don’t belong. Don’t count yourself out before you count yourself in! My GPA was below a 3.0 and I was not a medical student anymore, but I was interested in the technology they were doing research on and I was passionate. This is why I tell people to dream beyond what you can see. When you apply for something that you may not be specifically qualified for on paper, you have to give people a reason why you deserve the spot. When I wrote my letter to the director at Lombardi, I filled it with my passion and I think passion matters more than “qualifications” sometimes.
You’ve moved around quite a bit to take advantage of incredible opportunities that have been presented to you. What advice would you give to young women afraid to leave the nest to pursue what they want?
If you don’t leave the nest you can’t expect to have anything more than what is at the “nest”. If you’re an actor/actress you would usually go to LA, models usually go to NYC. Not because those are the only places you can make it, but because those cities usually hold the most opportunity. After college I moved to Kansas City, MO which I have to say was unexpected but I had to go where the opportunity was. I know people who will NOT leave because they have an attachment to people and things and I did as well but sometimes you have to put yourself and your needs FIRST. As a fresh college grad I was eager to learn more and immerse myself in different environments, so that’s what I did. I tell young women to do what makes you feel alive, my mission (notice I did not say career) makes me feel alive. Whatever move I need to make to follow my mission is what I am going to do. Some people may have goals and missions that do not require them to leave the nest, and that’s okay too. Don’t be afraid though, everything you want is on the other side of fear.
You’ve beat the odds in more ways than one. What have you had to endure to prove that you’re much more than stereotypes and statistics?
I endure a lot of doubt due to the fact that I am a young black woman. The first day at my first job out of college, I had a white male call me “boo boo”. It’s very demeaning that everywhere I go I have to demand my respect when others are so easily given it based on privilege. I always tell my young black girls that as soon as you walk through that door for an interview you already have 2 things working against you; which is that you’re black and you’re a woman. People are going to automatically assume that you are inadequate. I always walk in every room with my head up, heels on, and a positive attitude. I also read a lot. One thing my father always told me was, “know your history” and I learn that through reading and travel. Another thing is, I don’t separate myself from my people. A lot of people think that you have to separate yourself from your race in order to achieve more and you really don’t have to do that. Expanding your horizon is one thing, but don’t separate yourself.
What is being a minority woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) like? Why should other women like us take that path?
It’s hard. I don’t want anyone to ever think anything different. I actually love my current job and the independence that it comes with. The hard part is that, nobody looks like you. Sometimes it’s hard to climb a ladder when nobody who looks like you is at the top which is why representation in STEM is so important to me. I believe other women should take the path because it is such a versatile field with so much room for growth. I work in health technology but I have a best friend who does some tech work at a PR firm in New York. You can also work in fashion, gaming, and culinary arts. STEM doesn’t just mean math and science, but it also means connecting people to the future. At my current job, I am currently working on a migration from one software to another and I’ve been a big part of leading the whole project which has been an amazing opportunity because I want to move into project management sometime soon. Also, I think that people think technology means coding and for me, that is not the case. I do know how to code (very little) but my job is so much more than software.
You have a successful boyfriend that you’ve been dating since high school. Why is it important to you to work hard and create your own path when you have the opportunity to live a lavish life without having to do much at all?
Haha, this question honestly made me laugh! I guess it truly depends on your definition of “lavish”. I started dating my current boyfriend when I was 15 and I always knew he would be very successful but that never stopped me from furthering my education. I think that it all comes down to what YOU want out of your own life. I’ve always wanted to have a successful career, make my own money, and my own rules. Yes, he is successful and I could be “comfortable” without going to work every day. But that’s just not the kind of woman I am. I find nothing wrong with women who are, I’m just not. I think that independence demands a different kind of respect, and that matters to me.
How has having a supportive partner helped you achieve your greatest accomplishments?
My boyfriend and I were friends before we were lovers, and that matters a lot when it comes to support. Having someone cheering you on is so important in every aspect of life. We’ve been long distance for 5 out of the 7 years we’ve been together and let me just say, long distance is not for weak people at all. With his support I was able to take opportunities in different states for long periods of time knowing that near or far, our love would still thrive. I talk to so many women who will not take big leaps because they are attached to men and things that they’re scared of losing if they go away too long. I didn’t even move to Minneapolis until I found a good job that I would be happy with, and he was okay with that. The most important thing has been love. He’s loved me enough to want to see me do well without him feeling like it is a threat to his masculinity. I’ve watched him chase his dreams for years while supporting him in every way I possibly could (even if that meant sitting in the rain when I just got my hair done). So now, it’s his turn.
What is your B Werd?
I would say that my B Werd is Beauty. I use that word because when I visited my granny for Thanksgiving break she kept telling me how beautiful I was. When she said the word she wasn’t just talking about my appearance. My grandma was talking about the woman that I had become, the woman that stood before her. There is beauty within women that goes beyond what they look like, it is truly in the eye of the beholder. I believe that there is a beauty behind the kind of work I do, the woman I am, and the substance I contain. Whenever my boyfriend compliments me, he always talks about how “smart” I am in reference to what draws him to me and that is the biggest compliment one can receive. People understand that beauty isn’t physical, beauty is substance and grace as well.
Follow Brianna on Instagram and feel free to reach out to her with any questions you may have. She’s as passionate about helping other women glow up as I am.