Daraja Brown is a second-year Civil Engineering student with a Spanish minor from Charlotte, NC. She first connected with SLS through the Building for Equity and Sustainability VIP, within which she is a sub-team lead for the Ratings Systems sub-team and recently had the honor of receiving a VIP Mentor Award. Daraja is passionate about leveraging her engineering knowledge and career to advance equity in historically-marginalized communities, and looks forward to continuing to learn how to best do so!

When I first joined the Building for Equity and Sustainability VIP, I had no idea I would end up joining a team of incredible change makers from around the country who are all united by our shared passion for advancing equity through our infrastructure. In fact, I never even considered joining a research team before I learned about the VIP because I knew I’d rather have a social impact within communities than focus on the technical details of civil engineering. Here I am now, however, three semesters into my team’s work and within the first half of my tenure as a student voice in the Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector (CESBS) Initiative’s Member-Leader Governance Team, and every day I’m learning what it means to advance equity through infrastructure!

As I look back on the process from first joining my VIP to now being a member of a national collective, I realize that all of the opportunities I’ve partaken in have been the result of me saying yes and taking a chance with something new. During my first semester with my research team, I met Mandy, one of our external advisors and the coordinator of CESBS. As a first-year just starting to find my place and voice on campus, I leaped at the chance to present our team’s work throughout the semester to CESBS during a working group meeting that served to begin our collaborative relationship. It was during this meeting that I first came to meet and build connections with some of the people I now interact with on the governance team, and it was during this meeting that I solidified my sense of belonging and identity within equitable building development. When the next semester began and our previous team lead graduated, I said “yes” to taking on the role of Sub-team Lead, which was both a daunting and exciting prospect. I didn’t always have the answers–in fact, I still don’t and I never will–but I was eager to learn and collaborate with my teammates, and I kept in contact with Mandy and CESBS through our work. I believe the relationship that we built, as well as the genuine passion I have for our work, is why Mandy extended the invitation to me to join the CESBS Initiative’s Member-Leader Governance Team toward the end of last semester. 

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about accepting the offer. I’m only a second-year student just starting to delve into the intricacies of civil engineering and the built environment–what could I contribute to a team of established professionals who have these necessary conversations about our infrastructure and its relation to our communities every day as part of their profession? How could I maximize my value in such an important space? 

Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my time at Georgia Tech and especially with my VIP team, it’s that the best thing I can do for myself and my community is to say “yes” and give myself a chance. And that’s what I did.

So far, I’ve learned that the type of leadership I’m cultivating with this governance team centers around listening and growing. I’m new to this space, so I’m trying to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge and wisdom as possible, because a crucial part of becoming a leader is stepping down to listen. I’m no longer afraid to be the least knowledgeable person in a space because that simply means there are more people I can learn from. As the governance team aims to be a guiding presence for the larger CESBS Initiative by setting goals for the larger body, allocating resources, overseeing projects, and supporting members’ individual endeavors, I simultaneously aim to continue building relationships, saying “yes” to new opportunities, and providing a unique student perspective to our discussions. 

I look forward to growing as a student, civil engineer, individual, and community member, and I’m so grateful that the CESBS Member-Leader Governance Team is an avenue through which I am able to do just that.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University System of Georgia, or the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.