- Technology & Science
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Undergraduate students
- Swanson School of Engineering
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A Pitt engineering student who leads by example.
Anaya Joynes' tools for mastering the complex are math — a “beautiful language because there exist right and wrong answers” — and repetition.
At 11 years old, those tools afforded her the ability to take apart and rebuild computers. As a University of Pittsburgh fifth-year industrial engineering major, that learning strategy means allocating two to three hours outside of homework to complete practice problems.
“I have to do a lot of repetition to understand processes,” Joynes said. “I can't accept ‘this is how we do it’ or ‘just because.’ I need to understand how we got to this part, all the steps in between and the outcome.”
There was at least one moment in her life when the solution was simple: In 2016, when she determined Pitt was her place. Her parents, Alan J. Joynes (A&S ’92) and Bridget Major-Joynes (NURS ’92), and uncle Marcellus Major Jr. (ENGR ’89) only partly influenced the Claymont, Delaware, native's decision to attend. The determining factor, she said, was Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program within the Swanson School of Engineering committed to the success of historically underrepresented engineering scholars.
After meeting Pitt EXCEL’s director, Yvette Moore, and realizing other schools didn't offer the same level of commitment to students of color who are pursuing the rigorous major at a predominantly white institution, Joynes told her family: “I have to get into Pitt, and I have to get into Swanson.” And she did.
“It was the perfect fit for me,” Joynes said.
Pitt EXCEL provides participants with mentoring, advising, access to an extensive alumni network and, according to Joynes, an extended family.
“I view Pitt EXCEL as a family,” says director Moore, who's worked in Swanson since 2006 and credits the program with impacting well over 1,400 students. “It’s a place where you can be challenged, be yourself and find like-minded and different people. People often look at diversity program students as less than others, and we promote our students as more than. We’re dealing with young creators that will go on to do better than we can even dream.”
Students accepted into Pitt EXCEL begin taking accelerated classes the summer before their first semester to encourage team building, help them acclimate to campus and coursework and reveal their skills and improvement areas. Moore and her team then customize academic counseling for each student, making sure to address time management, study skills, homesickness, race, sexuality, health and more.
“We get to know the scholar to understand how they will perform in these classes,” she said.
This hands-on approach, along with meeting program alumni, instilled excitement, pride and confidence in Joynes: “I can do this because they made it through,” she said.
But Moore said Joynes has done more than just make it through: She's epitomized the idea of the “holistic scholar,” evidenced by her many accomplishments, including an extended co-op with FedEx that lasted two years — double the typical rotation.
Joynes joined the shipping and transportation giant's linehaul engineering department in 2020, generating weekly data reports focused on the logistics and analytics behind trailer transport. She quickly learned the internal dashboards and was given increasing access and responsibility. In her final rotation, she discovered data wasn't being transferred from scanners to the system, a significant issue impacting reports for trailers and package deliveries.
Moore wasn’t surprised by Joynes’ success.
“A great industrial engineer [is] keyed in on how you optimize situations, industries systems — and [that’s] Anaya,” says Moore. “She’s an intellect extraordinaire with great charm, a caring leader who doesn’t have a problem pushing the envelope. The tone of Pitt is [set by] looking at her; this is where we should be going as engineers, as women, as Black women. It never ceases to amaze me what she can do. She is our future. She is the standard of what we want a scholar to be.”
Cora Brown, a senior material science engineer from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, saw Joynes’ leadership skills in action. Joynes not only led Pitt’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to win the 2021-22 Region 2 Medium Chapter of the Year, but, according to Brown, also established a standard of excellence for all members.
“I kind of followed her positions,” said Brown, who took up Joynes’ mantle as NSBE president. “She always pushed me and helped me realize what my goals could be in [a] position.”
Joining Pitt EXCEL and heeding Joynes’ advice aided Brown with landing a competitive internship with industry innovator Pratt and Whitney and a job with General Electric in Cincinnati, Ohio, following graduation.
“Her advice helped me keep taking steps up within leadership,” Brown said. “Her goals, the things she said, that kind of set the bar.”
A long-standing legacy
The struggles that accompany engineering and balancing extracurriculars, like Blue and Gold Society and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., have been the most rewarding aspect of the Pitt journey for Joynes.
“[Encountering] hardships and then succeeding proves I’m meant to be here,” said Joynes, who’s now contemplating her post-graduation plans. She’s hoping to align her talents with a commercial company seeking to improve customer experience; one that also boasts a track record of community investment and support of organizations like NSBE. Looking back on her Pitt legacy, it’s what she achieved outside of engineering she hopes people remember.
“Representing that you can be Black, a woman, in a difficult major, but still be involved on campus is something I wanted to show light to,” Joynes said. “I wanted to prove you can leave Benedum and see what the rest of campus has to offer because engineering is your major, not your personality. There’s so much you could do if you want to. I love it here.”
— Kara Henderson, photography by Tom Altany