Graduate Commencement speaker Liselle Joseph believes in Virginia Tech's motto
Liselle Joseph moved to the United States from Grenada in 2008 to study aerospace engineering at Virginia Tech, a first among her family and acquaintances.
“No one I knew had ever heard of aerospace engineering, much less a Grenadian female pursuing a career in the field," Joseph said. "No one in my immediate family had ever attended university or lived abroad.”
Since her arrival, she has earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and, finally, her Ph.D. in December 2017. She has been deeply involved with work at the university’s Center for Renewable Energy and Aerodynamic Technology, known as CREATe.
Her research has focused on experimental aerodynamics and wind tunnel testing in the university’s internationally recognized Stability Wind Tunnel. Her projects include studies of wind turbine aerodynamics for General Electric and the fundamental nature of turbulent flows over rough walls for the U.S. Navy and the National Science Foundation.
Joseph said that she encountered support and community spirit from almost every office at the university. “People I hardly knew were genuinely invested in my success and even more, my well-being,” she said.
Joseph gave back to the university community as well. She worked with her college to recruit more underrepresented students and was a Graduate Ambassador for the Graduate School. She said her own experience as a black female aerospace engineer has helped her understand firsthand the difficulties underrepresented students face.
Jack Lesko, professor and associate dean for research and engineering in the College of Engineering, said Joseph has turned her own experience “into a powerful message that she delivers to other underrepresented students in engineering.” She also served on the Committee on Graduate Inclusion and Diversity Policies and has been a member of the National Society of Black Engineers.
She became a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students, as well. “My mentoring efforts are closely tied to one of my primary focuses: to help eliminate bias and prejudice in all areas of life and to create an affirming and inclusive environment for all,” she said. She established a writing group for students in the aerospace and ocean engineering department, recognizing the need for “a productive space for writing and reading publications.”
William Devenport, professor of aerospace engineering and her Ph.D. adviser, said of her work: “She saw that the students around her needed help, needed to interact more with each other to learn and to achieve their scholarship goals. She took it on herself to create this group, with no prospect of accolade to her.”
Joseph has taken on several leadership roles during her tenure at Virginia Tech. She has been a delegate to the Graduate Student Assembly, a member of her college dean’s Graduate Team, and is a founding member of the AOE Graduate Student Association.
Joseph candidly noted that juggling her extracurricular activities and her research was a challenge. “I found the on-campus counseling services useful during the difficult times,” she said, adding that counseling led her to what has become one of her favorite activities, working with therapy dogs. “My dog and I provide students and the community with stress relief and comfort. This is not only fun, but it is important work toward improving the well-being of those we work with.”
Joseph said she has grown as a person and as a leader during her time at Virginia Tech. “I will always be grateful for my experiences because Virginia Tech has indeed educated my whole person.”
During her tenure at Virginia Tech, Joseph earned several honors and scholarships. She was a Jean B. Duerr Memorial Scholar, a Bruce H. and Dorothy R. Pauly Scholar, a C. Howard Robins Jr. '58 Scholar, and she received the Paul E. Torgersen Excellence in Research award, among other notable awards and recognition for her scholarship and leadership.
After completing the requirements for her doctoral degree, she began working as a senior aero/thermo engineer on compressor aerodynamics at Pratt and Whitney. She also was the featured student speaker at the Fall 2017 Graduate Commencement on Dec. 21.