Infinite Careers is a collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.
- MIT, SB in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering with Information Technology (2002)
- MIT, SM in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (2005)
- MIT, SM in in Technology Policy (2005)
Ayanna T. Samuels is an Aerospace Engineer and International Development Professional who has run a consultancy practice for over 12 years specializing in a) the intersection of Gender, ICTs and STEM policy, and b) the use of ICTs and Technology Policy as enablers of access to basic human rights, socio-economic empowerment and poverty eradication. Ayanna’s international gender parity efforts are largely focused on creating gender equity in the STEM arena. Presently Ayanna is the Jamaica based World Bank Consultant for the Bank’s Caribbean Mobile Innovation Project, with hubs in 5 different countries. She holds three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology comprising two M.Sc. degrees in Technology Policy and Aerospace Engineering respectively, and a B.Sc. in Aerospace Engineering with Information Technology. Being a lover of romance languages, Ayanna speaks French. Continuously weaving a wide professional footprint, Ayanna has coordinated research and/or managed projects for several distinguished clients including the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, the International Development Bank, the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO), CARICOM, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre (LACNIC), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, the International Institute for Communications and Development, the St. Lucia Coalition of Services Industries and technical start-ups like mSurvey. She has also worked with a UN body, the ITU, in Geneva Switzerland on two different occasions. Ayanna has delivered numerous international talks on Gender Equity in the Caribbean’s ICT Sector and was invited by the World Bank in 2016 to be a member of the selection committee for the Women’s Innovation Network of the Caribbean’s Entrepreneur Acceleration Program, which spanned numerous Caribbean countries. As the only Caribbean woman to author a Chapter in the successful 2016 Book entitled “The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change (Innovation and Change in Education),” which featured women from over 30 countries, Ayanna is indubitably making her mark as a pioneer in the Caribbean ICT movement. As a consequence, in April 2017, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) invited Ayanna to be the keynote for the launch of a pioneering GOJ ICT Think Tank. She has also co-authored a chapter in the Book “Studies in Media and Communications,” entitled ‘Gender Equity and Access in the Caribbean ICT Sector,’ again in 2016. As testament to her international credibility, Ayanna was invited in January 2017 by a Barbados international labour magazine to author a piece on Gender Relations in the Workplace. She has also been featured as the cover story of the October 2017 Wealth Magazine issue, for a feature dubbed “The Disrupters: Women Blazing Trails in the Digital Space”. An advocate for living one’s best life, Ayanna also acts as a Health and Wellness advisor and Motivational Speaker. She commands respect as a focused athlete, having practiced ballet from age 6 to 18 and is now an award winning international Bodybuilding and Fitness Athlete, a committed triathlete and a multi medal winning 5K and 10K runner. Ayanna learned to swim to complete her first triathlon in April 2017!.
What influenced your decision to select your majors in Aeronautics & Astronautics with Information Technology and Technology Policy/Aeronautics & Astronautics?
I grew up always wanting to be an astronaut. The desire pulsed non-stop through my veins for as long as I can remember. Given its strong reputation for graduating world class astronauts, and as a beacon for engineering in the world, MIT was the ultimate pick. Once at the institute my career ambitions naturally led to majoring in Aerospace Engineering. During my undergrad tenure I became very instilled in a desire to use Aerospace Engineering for social good. How is it that my work within Aerospace would make the world a better place? Such questions encapsulated me. This led to a focus on the use of Aerospace Technology, such as satellite communication systems, acting in a symbiotic relationship with other Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), being used to leapfrog affordable and accessible access to basic human rights, throughout the developing world. These basic human rights span the spectrum from broadband Internet access (which ought to be viewed as a human right, as it unlocks access to the knowledge economy) to healthcare, to education, to clean water source identification, and so many more. This led to my wanting to be an engineer who could be a leader, who could change the global paradigm of how we view and use ICTs. An engineer with intimate knowledge of the tenets of the policy, financial, legal, infrastructural, regulatory and social issues that impact the implementation of technology. This led to an interest in coupling an Aerospace Engineering SM with a Technology Policy SM and hence my pursuit of same.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
When I decided on my career path it was very risky as I knew no-one else doing this. There was thus no-one I could speak with to understand what my metrics of success ought to be, and even how success ought to look. In light of this, the most rewarding aspect of my career has been the opportunity to execute projects that are squarely in my area of interest, and knowing undoubtedly that they are employing ICTs for the empowerment and embetterment of mankind. These experiences have shown me that the impact I want to make in life is possible. Indeed, I’m aware that what I achieve in this life is determined in large part by what I deem possible.
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
I’m motivated every day by an overarching desire to help to uplift those at the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, the impoverished and those without hope. I firmly believe to whom much is given, much is expected, I’m thus very keen on using my gifts to move the human development needle forward, and leave a legacy which will be etched in the annals of history.
What is the biggest challenge you encountered in your career and how did you overcome this challenge?
Defining a path for career growth and ascertaining the tools and skills which facilitate the fastest path to career advancement, along with identifying clear landmark metrics of success along this path has been my biggest challenge. I wouldn’t say I have yet “overcome it” but leaning on the advice of trusted mentors and sources of inspiration such as renowned motivational speakers and MIT’s Alumni Association online professional mentorship talks have been very helpful. I also have been counselled by programs for Women Entrepreneurs such as the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women which has been quite impactful. I think I will employ the services of a career coach in the very near future.
Looking back on your experience at MIT, what advice would you give yourself if you knew then what you know now?
Once you give your best it is enough, don’t be caught up in feeling you have to ace every subject. Form a strong community. This will be your lifeline in successfully navigating the personal and professional challenges life at MIT will bring. Whenever you have problems talk about it, upperclassmen/advanced grad students are an amazing resource. There is a very high probability that someone amongst their ranks has already overcome the challenge you are presently facing and can thus give sage advice. Don’t think that upon graduation you will become wealthy in short order. Your focus should be on working from the ground up to carve out an airtight reputation, which will be your greatest asset. Treat your brain like a muscle. To keep your mental stimulation firing at maximum efficiency you must give the brain time to focus on things other than problem sets. Go to Harvard Square and engage a stranger in a game of chess, go sailing on the Charles River. Try out a new type of cuisine. It is also imperative to maximize brain health by engaging in proper nutrition (learn to cook and ward off that Freshman 15 lbs!), getting adequate sleep and proper and consistent exercise.
What advice would you give to current students that are interested in pursuing the same undergraduate and graduate majors as you or a career in international development, consulting, and/or Information and Communication Technology?
Spend as much time as you can, speaking to people within the field to ascertain the nuances of their experience. Start going to conferences centered around this area of interest. Heavy discounts are often given to students, so you can afford to do this. Take the initiative to ask persons in your field of interest if you may shadow them at work. People want to help but we have to be bold enough to ask and be very clear on what we hope to gain from the experience. Volunteer with professional organizations within your area of interest. This will give you good exposure to key issues and will shine the limelight on you. If you desire to be a leader who mobilizes engineering, research and policy to address key issues confronting societies, I would then strongly suggest combining an engineering degree with a Technology Policy degree. The Technology Policy Program attracts likeminded individuals who are passionate about addressing societal challenges through research and education at the intersection of engineering, technology and policy.
What is something that you did not do at MIT that you wish you had done while you were here?
I wish I had participated in the study abroad program in a non-English speaking country. It would have done so much to elevate my consciousness of self and the world and would have afforded very unique personal and professional perspectives. The sum-total of this experience would have redounded to my graduating with a more holistic and multi-dimensional educational experience.
What does “work-life balance” mean to you and what do you do to maintain a work-life balance?
For me, work-life balance means feeding all aspects of a balanced life. This means making time on a weekly basis to feed our spiritual, mental self and physical selves. I am very much into Health and Wellness and have become a Health and Wellness coach wherein I advise clients on how to best achieve their body transformation goals, with work starting from the inside out. I also am a long-distance runner, a triathlete and bodybuilding and fitness athlete and as such I train intensely on a weekly basis, always seeking to be a better athlete than I was the day before! I compete regularly, including representing Jamaica internationally and it has been an amazing athletic journey! I also am careful to ensure I have regularly scheduled opportunities to bond with family and am always working on evolving my spiritual being and knowledge of self, towards full self-actualization.