Alumna is an engineer pioneer in Cameroon
Mbu Waindim has always forged her own path to success. And she wants to help others do the same.
At just 17, she moved to the U.S. to study aerospace engineering, a field that isn’t widely talked about in her native Cameroon. After graduating with her bachelor’s from the Florida Institute of Technology, Waindim enrolled at The Ohio State University to earn her doctorate. In 2017 she became the first Cameroonian to hold a PhD in aerospace engineering.
“I wanted to go into aerospace engineering because I’m fascinated by flight and for the intellectual stimulation,” she said. “Aerospace engineering answers questions that are not obvious, such as explaining how an aircraft—a huge chunk of metal—can float in air. I wanted to learn how it worked and figure out how I could contribute to that space.”
While at Ohio State, Waindim served as a graduate research associate in the High-Fidelity Computational Multi-Physics Laboratory under the direction of her advisor, Professor Datta Gaitonde, who was ultimately the deciding factor in her decision to become a Buckeye.
“It was really important to me to find a lab that had a culture where I could thrive,” she said, noting that Gaitonde struck a good balance between providing support and independence to his students.
Additionally, she spent summers working at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Those experiences were vital in helping to shape her future, she said.
“It just set the basis for the rest of my career because a lot of things feed into each other—your first experience kind of helps the next one and the next one and so on,” said Waindim. “Having that solid foundation has been invaluable.”
After earning her PhD, she went to work for aerospace defense companies, first as a thermal engineer for Harris Corporation and later as a senior thermal analyst at Raytheon. Although she enjoyed her time working in industry, Waindim ultimately decided to explore a career in consulting.
Her current position at a global management consulting firm allows her to work on various projects for weeks at a time across a wide array of industries. It has also given her the chance to work with the public sector, which is of great interest to her. While she’s no longer an engineer by trade, Waindim believes her background has proven to be essential in her new role.
“I am definitely leveraging the problem-solving skills I developed as an engineer to figure out solutions for our clients,” she said. “My academic background allows me to quickly synthesize the issues our clients are facing and come up with impactful solutions.”
Motivated by growth and the ability to see change, Waindim strives to make the world a better place for those who come after her. This passion inspired her to start a computer programming club at her alma mater in Cameroon in 2015. While she had a strong mathematics and physics background when she first went to college, she had no idea how to complete the computer programming coursework that was a requirement for her bachelor’s degree. It was steep learning curve, but she persevered. The experience made her want to reduce barriers for future generations.
“I find that technology is an incredible way to equalize people in society. It gives a voice to the people who don't have one,” she said. “Equality is something that is super important to me. I felt that exposing young people to computer programming was one way to help them improve their chances in life.”
Another change she hopes to see in engineering is continued progress toward a more inclusive culture—including at Ohio State—in which engineers from diverse backgrounds can share their personal experiences and insights to help address global problems.
As a Black woman in a predominantly white and male field, Waindim hopes her presence serves as a source of inspiration for others like her.
“By existing in the spaces that I do, it allows other young women from the place that I come from and who look like me to dream beyond the things that are immediately available to them and to push themselves to see how far they can go.”
by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | email@example.com