Engineering plus math equals a new career

Engineering plus math equals a new career
Denise Yull brings an interesting perspective to her work in human development.

Can you guess what assistant professor Denise Yull teaches by looking at her academic degrees?

—EdD in educational theory and practice

—MA in mathematics

—BS in mechanical engineering

The answer isn’t engineering or math; it’s human development, with a focus on multicultural education and the role of black identity on educational outcomes for black students.

Yull, MA ’05, EdD ’12, joined Binghamton’s faculty in 2012. But her first career was as a mechanical engineer. She spent three years at Bell Aerospace Textron, working on the strategic defense (“star wars”) initiative, and 10 years at GM, specializing in heat-exchange design and manufacturing.

When her husband was transferred to Endicott, she had two young daughters and job offers — out of town. “I had to rethink my life,” she says. “What was I going to do?”

She took a part-time job teaching math, and something clicked: “It felt like I was supposed to be teaching, like I should have been there all along,” Yull says.

Over the next decade, Yull earned a master’s in math and was on her way to a doctorate when she was redirected by a philosophy class on critical race theory.

“It changed my life,” Yull says. “Being a black female in the fields I’ve chosen could be challenging. [The course] gave me the words to explain the feelings I had and the experiences I had. It helped me to refocus my educational objective.”

Yull realized that teachers need to be able to help students who don’t look like them. “My dissertation changed from math education to educational disparities. I work to empower people to challenge inequalities in our educational systems.”

Her advice to students: “Play to your strengths, do what you love, don’t worry about money. I make considerably less money now than when I was an engineer, but you cannot beat loving to come to work.”

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