College of Engineering alumna partners with SMDI to support next generation of engineers by naming scholarship recipient

Wayne State’s College of Engineering recently named biomedical engineering doctoral student Tonya Whitehead as the recipient of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) Scholarship.

The scholarship was created through a donation from SMDI as way to honor the career of Wayne State alumna Elizabeth Krear, BSME ’88, MSME ’90, chief engineer of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. The $5,000 donation is intended to support a member of Wayne State’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in their pursuit of an engineering degree. Krear wants to encourage more students to study engineering and explore the myriad paths it can lead to, from research and design to management and more. She urges current students to take advantage of as many co-op, internship, volunteer and research opportunities as possible to develop their interests and strengths.

In addition to Whitehead’s studies, she has maintained an active presence in the college’s SWE chapter. In one of her many roles with SWE, she organized a Future SWE daylong event that introduces high school girls to engineering through hands-on activities. This year’s event was the largest to date with 95 students attending, two-thirds of whom were from underrepresented minorities in the field.

“Being part of SWE has given me the opportunity to meet and get to know several inspiring women. These women are from all different stages of life and have been able to give me valuable insight and wisdom into my future career,” explains Whitehead. “Events like these are critical to balancing the workforce in STEM fields.”

Whitehead is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Wayne State, where she previously earned a master’s in the same field. Her research is focused on using biomaterials for neural tissue engineering. Her doctoral project utilizes electrospun nanofibers along with growth factors to direct and enhance peripheral nerve regeneration after injury. Essentially, she is trying to use what we know about the environment nerve cells prefer to grow in to find a way to reconnect nerves so injured people can regain feeling and function in their arms and legs.

Whitehead’s involvement at Wayne State and in the surrounding community is not limited to SWE. She also spends extensive time volunteering for Tau Beta Pi, Wayne State’s Biomedical Engineering Society chapter, along with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Pawsitive Impact for Pets and the Michigan Parent Teacher Association.

“I was surprised and honored to receive the scholarship,” says Whitehead. It was definitely a blessing, and I can’t thank the committee enough for selecting me.”

# # #

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution of higher education offering 380 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 28,000 students. For more information about engineering at Wayne State University, visit engineering.wayne.edu.