By Christina Clark
SpectrumX’s founding Broadening Participation Director, Dr. Tanya Ennis, began her career as an electrical engineer and found her passion opening doors for young engineers through education.
Since March 2022, Ennis has served as both Broadening Participation Director for both SpectrumX and the Research Support Office in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder). As of October 2023, she has been promoted and transitioned to a new role as Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research, Creative Work and Innovation in the Research and Innovation Office at CU Boulder. She will continue to support SpectrumX indirectly through this new role, but has stepped down from her day-to-day responsibilities in the center.
During her time with SpectrumX, Ennis created a roadmap for the center to follow in developing intercultural competencies and in building new relationships with institutions, researchers, and students across the country.
“Tanya’s work with SpectrumX has not only organized activities and educated members in best practices for broadening participation of women and underrepresented minorities, but also has helped the center build relationships with additional minority serving institutions,” said Nick Laneman, SpectrumX center director and professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame. “We are all grateful for Tanya’s enthusiasm and leadership in this important component of the center’s mission,and congratulate her on her new position at CU Boulder.”
When Ennis engaged in SpectrumX, she brought with her a wealth of industry technical experience (including time at AT&T Bell Laboratories, U.S. WEST Communications, and Covad Communications) as well as almost a decade of education experience with her. She holds a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Electrical Engineering from Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College at Baton Rouge, a Master of Science (MS) in Computer Engineering from the University of Southern California, and a Ph.D. in Education – Learning Sciences and Human Development from CU Boulder.
“I know how it feels to be the student who was left out, and I know how it feels not to have an opportunity. Some days it felt like I had to kick the door in,” Ennis said. “When I got the chance, I knew I wanted to be the kind of person who opened doors to help others succeed.”
For Ennis, some doors began to open during her experience at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College at Baton Rouge.
“Having gone to an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and having experienced a place where everybody wants everyone else to succeed in general — I knew the culture was ‘we co-elevate and succeed together.’ I think that is really powerful,” Ennis said.
“Building relationships with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) intentionally is so important to me because it needs to be done in a way where those relationships could continue with or without me,” she said.
Her knowledge and experience helped launch SpectrumX’s broadening participation initiatives and created a roadmap for the center to carry forward practices of engaging with MSIs.
Ennis speaks passionately about her studies and work in engineering. Her studies span electrical engineering, artificial intelligence (AI), operational support systems, computer systems, systems engineering, and more. Her love of math supported her entry into and success in these fields, finding it to be a common language to apply.
“Mathematics is a way to make sense of things, and it’s a way to make sense of life and phenomenon,” Ennis said.
Ennis sees math as more than an assignment or a way to move through a task. She sees it as an opportunity to get others excited about creating solutions and finding answers to challenges.
“I loved linear systems and control systems as an undergraduate engineering student. I thought the mathematics and how to apply the mathematics into something usable was fascinating,” she said.
Through her own academic experiences, Ennis recalls an experience she had while finishing her master’s degree. She was offered an opportunity to study abroad as a doctoral student. She turned down the opportunity, believing the timing was not right. Her mindset was “I need to get my degree and go to work.”
As she reflected on the past opportunity, she considers what she might change now – pushing to learn more about the logistics of the position, and what support may have accompanied the offer.
“I think it’s important to lay out all of the resources for students. There are opportunities that students don’t know they have access to, or how they could take advantage of them. They think they have limitations,” Ennis said. “Now, the world is yours. What do you want to do? What are your interests? What are the best ways to explore that?”
She experienced and witnessed discrimination that persists in some academic environments and wants to give students the ability to overcome those barriers by telling their stories and building their resumes while they are actively working on their studies.
Ennis has had many conversations with faculty and students at HBCUs and MSIs and has seen through her work as Broadening Participation Director the power of placing those students in rooms with people who can show them opportunities.
“At the SpectrumX Center meetings at NSF and Northwestern University, in the room with speakers from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Qualcomm and other agencies, the students made connections that they may not have otherwise,” Ennis said. “Having students in the room to listen and speak to leaders in telecommunications and spectrum sciences is important.”
In SpectrumX’s second year, Ennis helped launch the Broadband MAP US project with Monisha Ghosh, SpectrumX policy outreach director, and engaged students from four MSIs in the project. This project gives students the opportunity to begin sensing and recording real-world spectrum measurements of cellular bands and signal strengths in their areas, to map coverage in specific geographic areas and to process what those measurements mean.
Ennis has been with the CU Boulder College of Engineering & Applied Science for 14 years, building the bridges between engineering, broadening participation, and education. With her new role as director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research, serving a similar mission in the CU Boulder Research and Innovation Office, Ennis will have access to a larger array of activities. There are 12 institutes at CU Boulder with which Ennis will engage, along with researchers, creators, and innovators across the university – each is at a different point with their DEI and accessibility implementations.
“The cross-pollination of the research activities we have on campus is something I have not had the chance to explore yet,” Ennis said. “I’m interested in learning about each of the researchers, creators, and innovators across the university, diving deeper to understand their scope and needs, and developing similar broadening participation plans as I have for SpectrumX and the Research Support Office at the CU Boulder College of Engineering & Applied Science.”
First: Headshot of Tanya Ennis. (Provided/Tanya Ennis)
Second: Ennis spoke at 2023 National Science Foundation (NSF) Spectrum Week at the NSF headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo/Christina Clark)
Third: Ennis with SpectrumX students at 2023 NSF Spectrum Week. (Photo provided/SpectrumX)
Fourth: Ennis with SpectrumX students at the Fall 2023 SpectrumX Center Meeting at Northwestern University. Photo provided/SpectrumX.
SpectrumX is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its Spectrum Innovation Initiative, under grant number AST 21-32700. SpectrumX is the world’s largest academic hub where all radio spectrum stakeholders can innovate, collaborate, and contribute to maximizing social welfare of this precious resource.
To learn more about SpectrumX, please visit spectrumx.org.
Christina Clark, Research Communications Specialist
SpectrumX / Notre Dame Research / University of Notre Dame
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