“If we can’t solve inequities, we won’t be able to address systemic issues,” Ava Williams stated when asked why her work is important.
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Tenisha “Ava” Williams, BS Systems Engineering, is a first-generation college student and one of the fiercest advocates for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
In high school, Ava was an exceptional math student who excelled at breaking down a problem and coming up with multiple solutions. Ava didn’t know any engineers growing up and as a result had not initially considered engineering as a career path. During Ava’s senior year in high school she had an opportunity to complete an independent study. She chose to shadow a female executive at Medtronic and that is where her love for engineering began.
“I thought the VP was phenomenal. I wanted to be like her when I grew up, so I applied to GW’s engineering school,” Ava stated.
As an undergraduate student at GW Engineering, Ava began her academic career in Biomedical Engineering where she gained valuable insight but didn’t quite find her passion. Ava sought the advice of upper classmen and advisors, and realized Systems Engineering combined her passion for problem solving with her technical and mathematical skills. At that time the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering was new and growing – but that was what Ava loved most.
“The Systems Engineering Department was very small back then. Within my cohort, my classmates all came from different countries and different backgrounds, and I enjoyed learning about different cultures. GW has a significant international presence and influence. One of the things I love about GW is its international imprint in, around and through the university,” Ava stated.
Despite GW’s strong international community, as a first-generation Black American female student, Ava found it difficult to find her place and struggled with feeling connected.
“I bounced around to different advisors, I didn’t have strong figures on campus who looked like me to guide me. As a result, I sometimes felt lost. But then I found NSBE [the National Society of Black Engineers]. NSBE played a major role in my success, and I could not have completed GW without that organization,” Ava stated.
After completing her undergraduate program at GW, Ava attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and completed her master’s in Engineering Management. Immediately after graduation, she worked as a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton in the U.S. Air Force “High-Velocity Analysis Project” at the Pentagon. As a team lead, she trained and led numerous operational analyses to optimize manpower and equipment required to meet potential future wartime demands in a cost-effective, risk-minimizing manner. In recognition of this work at Booz Allen Hamilton, she was awarded the BEYA Modern-Day Technology Leader Award – an elite award for innovators and members of high-tech programs, fulfilling the ever-changing needs to help keep the U.S. strong, competitive, and safe in the decades ahead.
“In my first position, I was one of the best. I used my math skills to help keep our nation safe and it made feel accomplished. I also had the opportunity to report to strong women who were leaders in their field, and I was often the youngest person in the room,” Ava stated.
After two years working at the Pentagon, Ava realized that she could and wanted to do more. She knew she had a greater calling and wanted to use her powers for good.
“I wanted to make an immediate impact on the world,” Ava stated.
Ava has dedicated her life to leveraging her engineering skills to help others realize their value and their place in this world. This passion to solve inequities has embodied Ava’s work, as she feels it was engineering that helped put her life on the right path. Today, Ava continues to do her part to pay it forward. Ava has led project teams with a focus on addressing inequities for a variety of clients including the Associated Black Charities, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Impact Florida, and the United Negro College Fund just to name a few.
“I focus on helping organizations and individuals move from good intentions to impact and action. I’m working to address the question of how we build the world we all envision,” Ava stated.
One of the goals of Ava’s consulting group is to impact 1 million people and help them be better stewards of their lives. Ava’s team of consultants is working across industries to achieve this goal and is addressing several societal issues while doing so, including environmental justice, the digital divide, health equity, and education.
Ava practices what she preaches, going from good intentions to impact and action. Ava continues to carve out her indelible mark on the field of Systems Engineering through the students she supports, her research, her work in practice and her philanthropy. It is Ava’s hope that other alumni will follow her lead and consider a way to give back.