Solving Imposter Syndrome Through Community-Building and Interdisciplinary Work

7/11 Pratt School of Engineering

Shaundra Daily joins the Pratt School of Engineering faculty devoting her time to developing community through Duke Technology Scholars and beyond

four people at a panel discussion at Duke University
Solving Imposter Syndrome Through Community-Building and Interdisciplinary Work

Shaundra Daily has joined Duke University as a professor of the practice in electrical and computer engineering and computer science. She is also a core faculty member in Innovation & Entrepreneurship and faculty director of Duke Technology Scholars. Outside of teaching, she is a co-founder and creative director of DEEP Designs, LLC. Daily received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Florida State University, and her Master’s and PhD in media arts and sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Daily began her engineering career as a means to an end; her goal was to get a job at the CIA. She had a budding interest in investigative work, and her decision to pursue engineering was rooted in a desire to be a good CIA candidate.

Shaundra DailyAs she progressed in her undergraduate career, however, she developed a passion for electrical engineering. Daily continuously exceeded expectations, and one of her professors took note, approaching her about pursuing a PhD. Though Daily was hesitant at first and hadn’t imagined pursuing a PhD, she abandoned her plan of working for the CIA. She entered an electrical engineering doctoral program at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and spent time researching topics from solar power to biomimetics, but eventually discovered her calling in education innovation.

While at FAMU, she designed and executed a curriculum for a National Society of Black Engineers program called Technical Outreach Community Help (T.O.R.C.H.). It was here that she discovered her talent for creating lesson plans and a particular interest in pedagogy. This experience led her to reevaluate the focus of her PhD.

Daily decided she wanted to explore the intersection of electrical engineering and pedagogy. When faced with barriers to pursuing this at FAMU, she finished a masters in electrical engineering and opted to apply elsewhere, landing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in 2003 to complete her doctorate. At MIT, she focused on implementations for affective computing in educational technology and thrived in the Media Lab by exploring the often-untapped potential in interdisciplinary, creative work in engineering.

Daily went on to co-found a company focused on bringing others’ ideas to reality. Although she enjoyed the experience, Daily recalls that “there was something missing.” Subsequently, Daily was offered a position at Clemson University as an associate professor, which she viewed as the perfect fusion of self-agency and stability. It was a welcome change for the single mother of two. Daily compares being a professor to being an entrepreneur, saying, “I’m able to choose my own problems and go after funding to support my ideas. I set my own hours…for the most part. The big difference is somebody else is paying my salary.”

While at Clemson, the project Daily designates as her proudest professional achievement came to fruition. A juncture of her interests in affective computing and teaching, Virtual Environment Interactions (VEnvI) is a software that melds choreography with computational concept education.

To develop this software, Daily drew on her gymnastics and dance background. The software was aimed at engaging middle school girls in a programming curriculum by demonstrating that computing can center around creative and expressive potential.

When asked about her thoughts on the sterotype of engineers as one-dimensional, Daily replied, “I think that engineering gets overlooked for the creative activity it is. Yes, there’s a lot of math and science, but have you seen how beautiful engineering creations can be? Or thought about the creativity it takes to design mechanisms that operate everyday objects?”

Daily firmly believes that keeping her artistic side active throughout her college career and beyond has bolstered her career by giving her a unique skillset. While she acknowledges that the skillset she possesses may not give her the same technical knowhow as her more specialized colleagues, she is more than okay with the tradeoff.

A group of students pose for a picture in front of the 'box' logo“I can understand why students feel a pressure to fill their resumes with the latest technical skills,” said Daily. “But my best interview conversations and most notable projects have come from allowing all the parts of my personality to shine through.”

As Daily headed for increasingly administrative roles, she was offered a position at Duke that provided what she terms a “return to what she enjoys…teaching.” Here, Daily teaches two introductory engineering classes as well as a higher-level class, Special Projects in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

When she’s not teaching, Daily advocates for students to be both technically savvy and multi-dimensional. She encourages her students to proudly interweave their unique talents and diverse backgrounds with their technological endeavors and to create inclusive communities.

Her primary channel for these beliefs is Duke Technology Scholars (DTech), a partnership between Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences Computer Science Department and the Pratt School of Engineering’s Electrical & Computer Engineering Department. Daily explains, “DTech is a comprehensive effort to inspire a more diverse group of Duke undergraduates to choose careers in computer science and electrical and computer engineering. The DTech program centers around the idea that relationships, mentorship and hands-on experience make the difference in recruiting and retaining diverse individuals in technology fields.”

Through the program, Daily works with executive director Monica Jenkins and staff to mitigate the feelings that accompany imposter syndrome. To her, “The biggest thing about DTech is that the students have been able to create community with each other. When you talk to other people, you realize you’re not the only one dealing with particular challenges.”

It is Daily’s firm belief that this open communication among students within close-knit communities can alleviate imposter syndrome because, as she says, “In a community where you can be transparent and vulnerable, you get to learn it’s not just you feeling that way.”

Daily hopes the DTech model of community building will extend beyond its current participants and that the propagation of such communities across campus will instill a sense of belonging among all students. And perhaps, by creating the right environments for students, the prevalence of imposter syndrome will begin to fade.

Nami Reddy is a junior double-majoring in biomedical engineering and computer science with a minor in computational biology and bioinformatics.