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Being the only female student in the classroom is the norm for Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology student Ladonna S. Smith ’22.

She will be the only woman in the program’s graduating class this May, and she has been outnumbered by male peers throughout her college journey.

“It can be daunting when you step into a classroom and nobody looks like you,” she said.

It was a long time before Smith felt at ease at Canton. Aside from being in a male-dominated program, she said
being a woman of color at a predominately white college added another layer of stress.

“I was honestly scared at first, because I knew I stood out and sometimes you just want to blend in,” she recalled. “I struggled asking questions and reaching out to professors and students, because I didn’t want to be seen.”

However, as time progressed, she became more confident. Joining a sorority and serving as the Steel Bridge Team Treasurer helped her build a network. Things also started to click when she joined the campus SWE chapter (Society of Women Engineers).

She credits this small, but tight-knit group with creating a sense of camaraderie and combating her feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“Being involved with SWE can make you feel more comfortable and make you feel like you belong,” she said. Her experience has made her determined to leave a space for those following in her footsteps. As SWE president, she is recruiting new members to whom she can pass the torch with the help of her mentor, Associate Professor Dr. Adrienne C. Rygel.

She credits Rygel with keeping her engaged and enthusiastic not only about SWE, but about her coursework.

“She’s very thorough in her approach to teaching, and makes learning fun and interesting,” noting that courses in wastewater and water quality were among her favorites.

For her final project, Smith will analyze the nutrients found in nearby Black Lake. After graduation, she wants to make an impact on the planet by maintaining and protecting waterways and other natural habitats.

“I am interested in being out in the field and helping the environment as best I can.”