5 Questions with Engineering Student Mamadou Balde
Growing up in Guinea, West Africa, Mamadou Balde loved solving the riddles his father would give to him at the dinner table. Though the more challenging problems took weeks to solve, Mamadou never gave up — a trait that has helped him overcome. We sat down with Mamadou to learn more about his plans for the future, his passion for helping others and his entrepreneurial pursuits on behalf of our most underrepresented communities.
I’m sure you considered many options for college. Why did you choose UT?
UT was one of the first schools I visited. I participated in a week long business camp on campus during the summer after my junior year of high school, and I thought it was very welcoming to students like me who come from very little but believe we can change the world.
Since enrolling, my peers have been very supportive and the two student organizations I’ve joined — the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) — are committed to similar principles of personal and professional growth through support. I ultimately chose to major in chemical engineering because of the variety of career options that the field offers.
What is MamBa Inspire Co., and what motivated you to launch it?
Everyone has their own story to tell. When, I first arrived at UT, I thought my story was especially unique but I soon realized it actually wasn’t. Many students must overcome their own challenging obstacles, and their stories just fascinate me. In 2015, I had an idea for a motivational speaking project that gives people a platform to their share stories to help change the diversity and inclusion conversation and hopefully inspire more people to pursue their dreams. With the help of my good friend Khalid Osman, a Ph.D. candidate in construction engineering and project management, MamBa Inspire Co. was born.
Currently, MamBa airs two podcasts —“You Are Not Alone,” in which we recruit underrepresented minority students to talk about their experiences overcoming adversity, and “You Can Do It,” which features faculty members who share their career experiences in higher education. The future of MamBa has changed since its initial debut. My goal was to build an organization that would become my legacy after I graduate but it really is my passion project — it makes me happy. I’ve been developing the content and message each day in order to be in a position to sustain it’s success and I see myself continuing to do so after graduation, wherever life may take me.
Why do you feel it’s so important for students and faculty — especially those who come from our underrepresented communities — to share their stories?
Sharing stories connects people. Stories provide a platform that facilitates deeper understanding, conversation and comradery. Students hold faculty on a pedestal and believe that in order to pursue a career in higher education, their college experience has to be flawless. They are smart, experts in their fields and essentially unattainable. Many people do not realize that faculty are just people like everyone else. When faculty share their stories, they become more relatable to students. Similarly, when accomplished students share their stories, they can motivate students who are in the thick of it. Stories narrate the past but that story can be the foundation for someone else’s future.
How has your engineering education influenced your work at MamBa and vice versa?
My engineering education at UT has opened up opportunities for me that I never thought would be possible. While MamBa Inspire allows me to take a break from my studies, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to connect with such intelligent students and faculty had I not chosen this school.
Through UT, I’ve expanded my global perspective by studying abroad in Barcelona, interned at both LyondellBasell Refinery and Chemicals and ExxonMobil, and co-founded a nonprofit organization called the Women’s Relief Initiative, which provides menstrual pads to women in underdeveloped countries. Basically, I just really enjoy helping people. Whether it’s through chemical engineering or MamBa Inspire, I find it an essential part of building character through education.
What is your plan after graduation? Do you have a dream job or opportunity that you’re aiming for?
My ultimate goal is to go to medical school and become a doctor like my father. My father is my hero, and I grew up watching him spend hours helping people as a physician, community leader and family man. I think that is where I get my passion for helping people, and I would like to follow in his footsteps. I want a career where every day is different — where I can come home and tell my kids about the lives I’ve touched. I will most likely choose orthopedics or trauma.
This interview is part of an ongoing “5 Questions” series, where we ask Texas Engineers about their lives and research. Read more at medium.com/@cockrellschool.