Dajah Massey

Danielle Taylor, Contributing Writer

BERTRAND LIBRARY, BUCKNELL UNIVERSITY, 2011- There sits first-year student and Posse Scholar, Dajah Massey (The Posse Foundation is a nonprofit organization that chooses, recruits, and trains student leaders from various high schools to form diverse teams called “Posses” and sends them to universities all over the country, tuition paid). It is 1:49 am, and she can actually cue the next warning that will come over the loudspeaker, letting the students know that the library will be closing in ten minutes. The maintenance staff cleans around her feet as she decides which 24-hour academic building will become her home until the sun comes up. This is her life, and will be for the next five years that she spends at the University. Little does Massey know, she is going to make history.

After spending hours in one of the University’s few 24-hour academic buildings, the sun rises, 8 a.m. rolls around, and Massey gets ready to do this all over again.

No, it is not finals week. For as hard as Massey has worked, she certainly deserves a break, but Thanksgiving is far away. Winter break, the first time she will return to her California home since August, is even farther away. She shuts her laptop, gathers her books, reminds herself that it is all going to be worth it, and heads to her first class of the day.

Having chosen to take on the University’s dual degree program in civil and environmental engineering and business management, Massey cannot help but wonder if she has made the right choice.

Fast forward to 2014 and Massey, who has done the seemingly impossible by managing to study abroad for a full semester and finishing her five year, dual-degree program a semester early, recalls those days as if they were yesterday.

“I had taken a ton of AP classes in high school, but never in the science field … not to mention, a lot of other students had parents who were engineers. There was a lot of language and different terms that they were already familiar with. It was like I was already at a disadvantage,” Massey said.

Along with acclimating to the extensive workload, as one of the few minority students studying engineering, Massey also faced the struggle of finding people to work with. Many of her Posse mates who began their college careers working towards engineering degrees went on to pursue other interests in various fields. This left Massey, who chose to continue engineering, often without a lab partner, group project participants, or even someone to just check homework with.

“Being the only black person in class was hard,” Massey said.

Massey felt that her classmates were not always open to working with her, that other students felt like they knew more, and that they often looked down on her. While working on group projects, Massey’s partners would try to give her the remedial or simple tasks, and then even ask to look over her work.

“I was forced to figure stuff out on my own … Sometimes, I finished work in advance to check with professors … and after a while, students just got acclimated to me being there. I’m not going anywhere,”  Massey said.

Massey’s unwavering determination is not necessarily surprising, however.

Massey’s father works for the Los Angeles public school system, and he became accustomed to seeing students fall through the cracks. Refusing to see his own children do the same, he made sure that Massey and her sister got the best education they could in the best environment possible by sending them to  a private school far away from the city.

It was a sacrifice for Massey’s parents and for Massey and her sister, but it was that sacrifice that taught Massey the value of education.

“I had to get up early to travel to the other side of town for school … but my parents worked hard and sacrificed for us, so I valued that … Even though both of my parents went to college, they wanted to see me excel higher in education than they had,” Massey said. 

Massey credits her family as having played a major role in shaping her self-motivated nature and determination. She hopes to use her dual degree in civil and environmental engineering and business management to one day run a fashion business that creates eco-conscious, sustainable clothing that can be made accessible to the masses. 

Massey’s mother worked with a program called Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) and Massey attended a lot of the organization’s events. She also became involved in environmental issues at her high school, and served as president of her high school’s chapter of Roots & Shoots.

Roots & Shoots is an organization founded by Dr. Jane Goodall in 1991. Its goals involve bringing together young people (preschool to university age) to work on environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues. Roots & Shoots has local chapters in over 132 countries with over 8,000 local groups worldwide and over 100,000 young people involved.

Massey’s passion for designing and making clothes came from her grandmother. When Massey’s grandmother became sick with cancer, she moved from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States to stay with Massey and her family.  

“The hospitals are better here … She always stayed in my room … and she taught me how to sew,” Massey said. 

Her second year at the University, Massey put some of those creative and designing skills to work. She joined the Culture Couture Club. She modeled, designed, and created multiple African-inspired pieces for the club’s fashion show, themed “All Around the World.”

Massey’s desire to take on this rigorous dual degree program came as a result of not being able to choose between her loves for engineering, the environment, business, and fashion.

“I was always interested in business and money-oriented activities … I was good at engineering but enjoyed business, and I couldn’t decide. I want to own a business and know the aspects for myself so I don’t have to be controlled by someone else,” Massey said. 

Massey is not waiting until she graduates to start her own business. In fact, she has already begun designing, creating, and selling original pieces.

“It is just a small business,” Massey said.

Her business, fittingly called “Dajah Apparel,” embodies all of her goals—creating affordable, attractive, sustainable clothing that is suitable for all.

As time winds down on this semester, Massey is in the final stretch of one of the University’s most difficult programs. Although it seems like the load has not gotten any easier, she is reflective on all that she has learned and gained at the University.

When Massey crosses the stage this coming May, she will do so as the only black student to be graduating from the five-year program this year. According to former Associate Dean of Students for Diversity Thomas Alexander, she will be the first African American student at the University to complete a dual degree program, earning her a Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Bachelor of Management for Engineers.

Even after she leaves the University, Massey’s hard work and drive will always be remembered. She has served as an inspiration to many of her peers and a number of the younger women on this campus.

“I could say a lot about her … no matter what, she’s always laughing or smiling,” Daniel Narvaez ’14, one of  Massey’s Posse mates, said.

Massey’s five years at the University have paved the way for many more young women of color to follow in her footsteps. Long after this semester, she will continue to shine as one of the University’s brightest stars.

“Confidence is key. You can do what anyone else can do. The number of  women in engineering is small. The number of black women is even smaller. That shouldn’t scare you, it should inspire you,” Massey said. 

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