a student in front of equipment
"It’s taking out the routine in me, and it’s giving me more power to feel like I have a choice over what I’m going to do,” says mechanical engineering student Renikia Hodges.

Delayed, but Not Denied, Mechanical Engineering Student: Renikia Hodges

Sometimes our first career path is not our own. Renikia Hodges was persuaded to pursue dental assisting but later found a better fit with mechanical engineering technology. The mother of two enrolled at Beaufort County Community College to change career paths and increase her income. She plans to transfer to East Carolina University to obtain her Bachelor of Science in Engineering with a Concentration in Biomedical Engineering, combining her previous experience in healthcare with her new interest in engineering.

In her last year of high school, Hodges was uncertain about her career goals, but because of her interest in math and science, her dentist convinced her to study dental assisting. As she got further into her career, she had a change of heart about it. She decided to enroll in the mechanical engineering program after realizing she wanted something less structured and more creative.

“I love my job–let’s not get that wrong–but, ultimately, I do need more income,” she says, “and when it came to mechanical engineering, it spoke to a part of me that likes to take things apart, likes to put things together.”

“Everything revolves around mechanical engineering,” she says. “The water that we have in our houses, everything that they use to push out cement to build driveways and the bridges we cross. When it comes to biomed, you can help build different appliances to make people’s lives better.”

Her interest in mechanical engineering was influenced by her uncle, who specializes in CNC machining and runs his own 3D printing business, and a friend who studied naval nuclear propulsion engineering and later went into the technical side of biomedical engineering where he repaired, built, and installed medical equipment such as hospital beds.

“This program is designed to find what you like and run with it,” says Hodges. “It has many different options. You have your robotics, your CAD, your 3-D printing, all within this program, but it’s not telling you what you’re going to be. We’re going to put you in this. We’re going to show you what you can do with it. We’re going to allow you to find that route and take off with a sprint. It’s taking out the routine in me, and it’s giving me more power to feel like I have a choice over what I’m going to do.”

She hopes to take her new mechanical engineering knowledge and combine it with her healthcare experience to make dental and medical devices.

Hodges found it challenging to be the only woman in her class. Mechanical engineering is a male-dominated field where women comprise only seven percent of the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“That alone made me nervous,” she says. “Mr. Holliday, the instructor, is amazing. He gives everyone time to be hands-on, and I realized I was catching on just as fast as the men. I was jumping in, sawing, sanding, making different systems. I feel really comfortable now.”

Being older and returning to college also sets her apart from the rest of her class, who are mostly traditional college students.

“They are straight out of high school, and here I am, 30 with children,” she says. “So my day coming into class is different than theirs. They might have partied all day, and I’ve been wiping snotty noses with fevers and coming straight from work.”

Hodges is a very industrious person. She currently works five jobs while balancing her courses as well. She has built out a support system of friends and family who can pick up her children from school and watch them, so she has time to get her homework done. Her co-workers will root her on and help her stay on top of her assignments.

“Bills got to be paid, and I want my education, so I am biting off a lot,” she says. When she has a free time, she spends it with her children, who are a large part of why she returned to college.

“We may be delayed but not denied of our education, and we can show that to our children,” she says. “You can break through and do what you want to do when you put your mind to it, even if it is a male-dominated field.”