Electrical engineering alumnus named Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow

Sarah Small
August 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When an unexpected change in jobs gave Kwesi Vincent, a 1999 Penn State graduate in electrical engineering, a chance to help students from underserved areas meet college math requirements, he quickly realized that he had a gift for teaching.

His engineering background combined with his passion for educating made him a natural pick for the first cohort of the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program.

The program, which is supported through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, prepares individuals with strong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds for teaching in high-need secondary schools in Pennsylvania. 

“These Fellows will help expand quality STEM learning and prepare generations of students for high-growth fields that Pennsylvania needs,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press release announcing the Fellows. “I commend the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for its commitment to STEM learning.”

As a Fellow, Vincent will receive $32,000 to complete a specially designed master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania in exchange for a commitment to teach for three years in a high-need Pennsylvania school.

Vincent is looking forward to providing students the educational support needed to succeed in STEM fields, in part because of his own experiences.

“One of the formative experiences of my background was that I had not taken Advanced Placement calculus in high school,” Vincent said. “I was able to test into calculus at Penn State, but I saw the advantage that students who took calculus in high school had.”

This firsthand knowledge informs his own teaching philosophy and his long-term professional goals.

“I want to develop a teaching practice that can be replicated, so I can help others get young people who are interested in STEM from that initial point when they enter ninth grade through AP calculus,” Vincent said.

Giving back at Penn State

Beyond supporting high school students as a teacher, Vincent also serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) at Penn State. He sees this as an important way to give back because similar Penn State programs helped him through his time as an undergraduate. 

“When I was young, two of my cousins from Trinidad and Tobago got tennis scholarships to Penn State, and a third one went to Penn State for a business degree,” Vincent said. “I’d go on trips to pick them up from school, so I became familiar with the idea of college through the lens of Penn State.”

Despite that familiarity, Vincent said Penn State was still a big place and far from his home in Plainfield, New Jersey. It took some time and some help to adjust. 

“When I was a first year, Saundra Johnson, director of MEP at that time, reached out to me and was instrumental in getting me placed in the First-Year in Science and Engineering Special Living Option in Pennypacker Hall,” Vincent said. “It was so important because I couldn’t imagine being a first year, far from home, without that community that was dealing with the same challenges of a difficult major and the same goals and aspirations. Without that, I don’t think I would have had the success I’ve had.”

“I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if not for Penn State.” 

— Kwesi Vincent, Penn State electrical engineering alumnus and Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow

After graduation, Vincent landed a project management role at Lucent Technologies. While there, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.

“The gift and the curse of a Penn State engineering degree is that you’re qualified to do just about anything, and, if you don’t have a specific thing you’ve gone in there wanting to do, you could go in any number of directions,” he said.

Leaving a legacy

After his time at Lucent Technologies, Vincent took a job at Rutgers University as a math developmental specialist while he reflected on his long-term career goals. In this position, he worked with students from the Federal TRIO Programs to meet the math requirement for graduation at Rutgers University. 

“Professionally, that was the most fulfilling thing I had done up to that point,” Vincent said. “That really stuck with me.” 

From there, he took another position at Rutgers before moving back to private industry, where he has worked for McMaster-Carr Supply Co. for the past 11 years. 

“That gave me an opportunity to get a better understanding of the breadth and depth of engineering,” he said. “It put me back in touch with why I chose engineering as a major.”

At that point, Vincent began to again consider the trajectory that he wanted for his career.

“I knew I still wanted math to be a part of my career in some way, shape or form,” he said. “I also knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people like myself, who may not have a familiarity with the career options in STEM.”

Vincent began to think about the legacy he wants to leave, as well as the impact he wants to have. Teaching seemed an obvious choice. 

“When I learned about the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and that their particular emphasis was getting more highly qualified teachers into high-needs school districts, that just spoke to everything I wanted to pursue career-wise,” Vincent said. “I knew that was the path.” 

Throughout his numerous professional successes, Vincent has always credited his time as an undergraduate at Penn State for helping him with his achievements.

“My formative experiences with math took place at Penn State, and my instructors instilled confidence and skill in me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today if not for Penn State.” 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 03, 2020