Flint residents and best friends Rhonda Clarke ‘16, Phyllis Green ‘16 and La Shyla Nelson ‘16 will share the graduation stage for the second time when they receive their degrees at Kettering University’s Commencement Ceremony on June 18.
The three first became friends as seventh-graders at Flint Southwestern High School when their passion for math and science placed them in similar classes and extracurricular activities.
“We share a common morality,” Nelson said. “We all held ourselves to the same standards in school, in terms of the types of people we want to be and the impact we want to leave in Flint in the future.”
Their relationship began when Nelson and Green were in the orchestra together in the seventh-grade. They knew Clarke through common friends and classes but their relationship flourished when they attended the Academically Interested Minds (AIM) program at Kettering after their junior year of high school. AIM fostered each of their respective interests in math and science while bringing them closer as friends.
“We all came from Southwestern, we knew each other and had similar educational backgrounds,” Clarke said. “Based on all those things, we tried to sit together and help each other.”
Before participating in the AIM program, Nelson was not familiar with Kettering because it was often positioned to her as an opportunity that was “unattainable.” When the three of them arrived on campus, the transition from high school to collegiate level classes in the AIM program proved to be a greater challenge for each of them than they originally anticipated. The challenge in the classroom built their relationship while also emboldening their visions for the future.
“I learned about Industrial and Electrical Engineering and how diverse engineering can be,” Green said. “You think of it as just science and math, but AIM taught me how much you can do with engineering. AIM helped me fall in love with Industrial Engineering.”
After participating in AIM and graduating from Southwestern in 2011, Clarke, Green and Nelson independently decided to continue their education at Kettering. Clarke and Green chose to major in Industrial Engineering while Nelson pursued Biochemistry. Together they formed a network to support and challenge each other throughout their undergraduate careers. They studied together, became leaders on campus through multiple organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and in Clarke’s own words, they "were friends but grew to become family” during their years at Kettering.
“I couldn’t have done this without my friends,” Green said. “We were there for each other the whole way.”
Over four years later, Nelson describes their relationships with each other as “fun and empowering” with a heavy dose of accountability that dates back to high school. After 10 consecutive years of being in school together, the three will go their respective ways after commencement on June 18.
“When you’re in the moment you don’t think about it, but now, to me, it’s mind-blowing,” Clarke said. “We defied the odds. Still to me it’s so unreal.”
Clarke has accepted a position as an Industrial Engineering specializing in Systems Technology at Brose North America while Green joined the Ford College Graduate Program with Ford Motor Company on June 13. Nelson will be going back to school to study Theology in Southeast Michigan in the Fall.
“We are always going to be friends,” Nelson said. “We are always going to be there for each other. It will always be real and genuine.”
Despite all three of them pursuing careers outside of the area, the city of Flint remains at the core of their motivation and goals. Each of them continue to give back in their own ways and hope to one day collaborate to create a sustainable non-profit enterprise in Flint that will encourage future students to pursue similar educational opportunities and experiences in the community and at Kettering.
“It’s good for students in Flint to see Kettering’s involvement in the community,” Green said. “There was a lot of pressure for high school kids in the area to go out of the area if they’re skilled in technical subjects like math and science. Kettering is showing that we have a university right here in the community that is as good as any university in the country for those subjects.”
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