Tynesia Boyea-Robinson: Problem Solving in a Modern Economy

President and CEO, Reliance Methods
Director of Collective Impact, Living Cities
Washington, DC

Graduation Year: 1999

Degree at Duke:
Bachelor of Science

Major/Program:
Computer Science
Electrical Engineering

Career Highlights:

Tynesia Boyea-Robinson is president and CEO of Reliance Methods, a Washington, D.C.-based strategy and talent solutions firm she founded in 2011. Another of her many roles is Director of Collective Impact for Living Cities, a collaboration of some of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions aimed at improving the lives and communities of the economically disadvantaged.

My time at Duke showed me how engineers can help solve the world’s problems and helped me develop the tools to be one of those people. It gave me confidence about what I, myself, could accomplish.

What are you passionate about?

I’m very passionate about ensuring all people have access to opportunities that allow them to not just survive, but thrive. Some of the best pathway opportunities are in the sciences, and women and minorities are often underrepresented. I often share my experiences with young people – especially women and people of color – to expose them to the many pathways available when they enter fields like engineering and computer science.

I’m also passionate about working with employers – many of whom are used to looking in rather narrow places for talent and kind of writing off some parts of the population – and helping them come up with creative ways to attract and retain good employees. I try to help them see that by considering and hiring people they may not have looked at in the past, they gain a competitive edge and do something good.

How did your time at Pratt help prepare you for the many things you do now?

As an undergraduate, I was – and still am – excited by the way engineers think and solve problems, and the questions they’re able to answer on a completely different level. I learned that whether they’re designing a computer program or a cerebral shunt, engineers are taught to use the same thought processes and rigor to solve all types of problems. I rely on those problem-solving skills every day.

I also learned the importance of doing cross-disciplinary work – of reaching out to people outside of my field to get different perspectives on a problem – and putting all that information together to come up with solutions. This is something else that my career calls for every day.

My time at Duke showed me how engineers can help solve the world’s problems and helped me develop the tools to be one of those people. That gave me confidence about what I, myself, could accomplish.

What’s special about Duke’s ECE Program?

Duke Engineering is a culture that demands excellence, and students are taught to use their brains to make the impossible possible. I was always challenged to push myself to the edge of my learning curve to achieve concrete, sustained excellence.

There’s a strong emphasis on using what you learn to solve problems – as opposed to designing widgets. This is especially valuable in today’s workforce and economy, where “What problems do you solve?” is becoming a more relevant question than “What do you do?”

Pratt faculty members understand that, and they stress the idea that as engineers, we should try to leave the world a better place than it was before we got here.

What advice would you give today’s Duke engineering students?

I would tell them to really take advantage of all Duke has to offer while they’re there. The faculty members know what they’re teaching inside and out, and they bring a lot of real-life experience to the classroom. I specifically remember Dr. [Richard] Fair having a lot of awesome stories.

I would also advise students to never limit themselves in what they do and think they can do – which is advice I would give to anyone.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a performer; I wanted to be Debbie Allen. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but I always knew that I wanted to do something that would challenge me and that I could use no matter where I ended up. Engineering definitely has that; you can use those skills anywhere.

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