She took a leap of faith and landed strong
March 23, 2013
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Many agree a high-quality education is a commanding force for personal and professional development. It's no wonder then why many parents seek the very best education for their children. Charise Byers is the beneficiary of a mother and father who cared deeply about providing their daughter with a great education, one that led her to excel in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and dance. Byers is a young electrical engineer with the Afghanistan Engineer District-South in Kandahar where she also inspires audiences with her liturgical dance performances.
Her interest in STEM is only rivaled by her fascination with dance. She uses both to enhance the lives of others.
"My parents showed me what hard work, determination, and caring for others brings to bear. They have instilled in me qualities I hope to one day pass along to my future children," said Byers.
Byers has taken it upon herself to use her engineering education and experience to help children improve their understanding of and increase their excitement for STEM. When home in Maryland, Byers tutors and mentors youth through the local Job Corps. The program is an educational training initiative that helps youth learn a trade, earn a high school diploma or GED, find a good job or go to college.
"I have a strong desire to help young people improve their lives," said the Morgan State University graduate.
Located in Baltimore, Morgan State is Maryland's largest historically black college. Although Morgan State consistently ranks among the nation's top public universities in U.S. News and World Report's annual "America's Best Colleges" edition, the university was not Byers' first choice.
"I had my heart set on Julliard," she said.
Byers applied to the legendary performing arts conservatory and was invited to audition.
"I survived three cuts and when the final list was posted, my name wasn't on it," she lamented. "It was my first true experience with rejection, and I didn't want to dance anymore."
In addition to the arts, Byers' steadfast parents encouraged their daughter to explore math and science because they believed those courses would lead to many job opportunities and an interesting life filled with innovations, she said.
Byers launched her backup plan and enrolled in Morgan State University's Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. School of Engineering and pursued electrical engineering.
"I have a love of learning and problem-solving, so engineering is a good fit for me," Byers said.
Byers did not let the hammering defeat of not gaining entry into Julliard keep her down. She excelled in academic and extracurricular pursuits, including dance. She even was awarded scholarships to attend summer dance camps, and choreographed routines for Morgan State University's Dance line which performs with the "Magnificent Marching Machine," the University's official marching band. Byers continued to hone both her dance and engineering skills and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and also accepted several leadership positions in various dance ensembles throughout the greater Baltimore area.
In 2008, Byers accepted fulltime employment with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District. This time it would not be her parents, but rather a senior colleague, who would encourage Byers to continue pursuing excellence in engineering.
"John Kelley, an electrical engineer with decades of experience took me to visit a large military construction site at Fort Meade several years ago," she explained. "He guided me through the site with a meticulous eye, inspecting, observing. Over the course of our time together he shared his lessons learned and recommended actions I could take to build a solid career. He knows so much about engineering, leading and is humble as well. He is always willing to share what he knows and guide and advise younger engineers. That quality is inspiring and , I started working harder, hoping to become as knowledgeable as John Kelly."
Byers volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan to achieve her goals. Getting out of her comfort zone and increasing her experience by working on challenging, interagency projects will make her a better engineer, she said. With no prior military experience, Byers was a bit apprehensive about living and working in a combat zone, but she drew strength from her family.
"My entire family serves as encouraging mentors, from my grandparents to my cousins and definitely my parents. It's like the saying; it takes a village to raise a child. They are loving, but firm when needed. They are always honest regardless of the situation and that's why I love them. They encourage me to strive harder. I continuously work hard to make them proud," Byers explained.
That attitude and commitment to excellence has resulted in Byers' laboring on crucial public infrastructure projects, like the Southern Electrical Power System Kandahar (SEPS) project that when complete, will improve the availability of electricity for nearby Kandahar City residents.
After her duty day, Byers serves as an avid member of a community of faithful at Kandahar Airfield and choreographs and performs liturgical dance.
"It's one way I can express my joy and faith with the wider community," Byers said.
Back home in Maryland, after her 9-to-5 at the Baltimore District, Byers serves as the assistant director for the Modern Dance Ensemble at Morgan State as well as the Dance Line Coordinator for the Morgan State University Marching Band's Dance Line. She is a member of Shange Dance Productions and Nonalee Dance Theater and teaches at several dance studios and churches.
"Dance will always be a part of my life, as will engineering," Byers said.