Fort Valley State University’s valedictorian Maya Kedem has never had to look far to find a woman of color in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Her mother, Melanie Myles, has always been near, guiding her way in life and in the STEM arena with the simple words, “Do your best.” And the best is what she has become, leading FVSU’s class of Spring 2019 as valedictorian.
Kedem is a mathematics major and a part of FVSU’S Cooperative Developmental Energy Program (CDEP). She aspires to be a mechanical engineer and follow in her mother’s footsteps. Kedem hails from Anchorage, Alaska and finds the city of Fort Valley endearing, down to the whistle of trains running through the city’s core.
“Being from Alaska, my biggest challenge has been adjusting to life being away from my support system and my family,” Kedem said.
Kedem’s mother, Melanie Myles, is a mechanical engineer with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and says that from an early age, she was in awe of her mother’s leadership in a field dominated by men.
“At one point in her career, she was the director of oil movements and was in charge of keeping oil flowing in the pipelines at Alyeska,” Kedem said. “I grew up listening to her talk about the different projects she was working on and I was interested.”
At FVSU, she loves not being the only African-American student in the room, as she was in nearly all her classes in Anchorage growing up.
“The environment has been nothing but welcoming and Fort Valley State has truly become a second home to me,” she said.
The field of mechanical engineering intrigues Kedem because she enjoys working with her hands. One of the projects she can see herself working on in the future is one that will benefit her and countless others.
“I am hard of hearing in both ears and have had hearing aids since I was three years old,” Kedem said. “During middle school, I decided I didn’t want to wear them anymore. It wasn’t until December of 2018 that I decided I needed them again.”
Kedem would like to invent a version of hearing devices friendly to women of color by making them resistant to hair and beauty products. She would also like to make them smaller and less noticeable. For many years, she avoided wearing them because of their size and trained herself to focus on her instructors, and not on the noise around her in the classroom.
Upon graduation, she plans to return home to Anchorage and complete her third internship. In the fall, she plans to attend the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. UOA is one of five universities partnering with FVSU’s CDEP program in which students receive dual degrees from both universities.
“I feel like FVSU has prepared me for the future because not only have I had a load of [fulfilling] courses and excellent professors, but I also get to interact with different types of people. As someone who rarely spent time with people outside of my family, my time at FVSU has made me more social and comfortable in my own skin,” Kedem said.