By Tiffany Whitfield

For Tanighya Lanier, graduating from Old Dominion University was the culmination of  years of setting the bar high.

As a double major in statistics and applied mathematics with a minor in engineering management technology, she has methodically calculated her way toward success. She has put in the work and juggled jobs, internships, and leadership positions in student organizations while remaining confident of her potential in STEM as an African American female who refuses to be considered a hidden figure.

Growing up in Richmond, Lanier did not see many mathematicians or engineers who looked like her. However, Lanier’s parents encouraged her to tap into her love for math and engineering. Her dad, an Army veteran and college graduate, and her mother, also a college graduate, instilled in Lanier the values of hard work and determination.

“I’ve seen my parents work through the 2008 recession and then COVID-19,” Lanier said. “Seeing both of my parents go to work every day and still teach me the value of having an education showed me that it’s important.”

Since elementary school, Lanier has been drawn to math. When the class learned multiplication tables, she recalls always being the first to finish. In middle school she took advanced math classes and continued to excel in high school with hands-on labs. Before graduating from Henrico High School, she was a 2015-2016 NASA Virginia Aerospace Science Technology Scholar and a 2016-2017 NASA Virginia Earth Science Systems Scholar. This allowed her to do research, learn from scientists and engineers and see herself working in a STEM field.

Her participation in the two scholarly programs heavily influenced her decision to attend ODU because of the rigorous learning environment and the potential opportunities post-graduation to become an engineer in the government sector.

Double-majoring in mathematics and statistics was not easy, but Lanier was up for the challenge.

“I love the challenges and manipulation of numbers involved with math,” she said. “Most people hate math, but I am able to understand it in a way that comes natural for me.”

Even though she was one of the few Black females in most of her science, math and engineering classes, she did not waver in her resolve to be seen and heard.

“I always asked questions during class,” Lanier said. “I went to office hours and the former Math and Science Resource Center (now the Science Tutoring Centers) and had a support system in place.”

During the height of COVID, when the University was fully remote, she would Zoom with professors to go over problems or watch videos with her peers so they could help one another do homework. Also, she took advantage of the math department’s resources.

Several professors praised Lanier’s work ethic, talent and determination.

“One word to describe Tanighya is resilient,” engineering Adjunct Professor Kevin Muchiri said. “I've taught for a while, but Tanighya is in her own category. As she took my project management class, which is normally full of engineers, I saw a mind that yearned to learn and understand minds and find solutions. It didn't surprise me when she was twice elected as president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).”  

“I can attest that Tanighya Lanier is smart and well organized, and in an evolving research mindset,” said mathematics/statistics Professor Norou Diawara. “I believe such characteristics have enriched her experience to observe, learn and handle many duties with great success. She has shown intellect and dedication for her work and research, and eagerness to learn and adopt new techniques. I have no doubt she will make a difference in any area she will be working on.”

"Tanighya Lanier is a smart and hardworking student,” added mathematics/statistics Assistant Professor Sandipan Dutta. “She has been very efficient in her tasks with a natural enthusiasm to learn new topics. She has the admirable skill to transform her acquired theoretical knowledge into practical applications. I believe her inquisitive mind and her pleasant personality will be the foundations of a bright and successful future career in a field of her choice."

Since her freshman year, she worked at ODU’s Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity while being an active member of several student organizations. In addition to serving as president of ODU’s NSBE chapter, she has been a member of the Association of Women in Mathematics and the Women’s Initiative Network Program as well as the Black Student Alliance.

"College is a time where you can learn about yourself, try new things and meet new people,” Lanier said. “It’s a great way to also network, too. Just one club can broaden your mind and horizons.”

She continued to expand her network through internships. Lanier had a three-month internship at Naval Surface Warfare Centers, Dahlgren Division, in the summer of 2017. Also, she interned at Chitra Productions in Norfolk from 2018 to 2022, where she did business development work and used her research and analytical skills for state and federal policies.   

During the summer of 2021, she was a data entry intern at Solutions for Information Design, LLC, in Fairfax (working remotely). She collaborated with senior analysts and project managers on tasks involving data testing, data entry, web applications and website content.  

She also landed a two-month summer internship at Mythics Inc. through ODU’s Career Development Office career fair. She was the first project manager intern in the company’s history.

She gained managerial experience and collaborated with senior project managers on technical projects, including status reports scope, financial health of projects, and forecasting resources. Most importantly, she gained mentors and added knowledge to her expanding resumé.

Taking on so many opportunities came with challenges, but she has remained true to her goals.

“I believe I overcame challenges by aligning myself with other Black students in STEM,  particularly in engineering and math,” she said. “Having people who look like you and going through a similar challenge helps encourage one another to get the solutions. It’s nice to have relatable people surround you. I overcame it by reminding myself of others that came before me, like the local Hampton Roads heroes (i.e., the Hidden Figures).”