First Black Woman to Earn U-M Robotics PhD Inspires at Commencement

by Gee NY

The University of Michigan recently celebrated a significant milestone as Oluwami (Wami) Dosunmu-Ogunbi became the first Black woman to earn a PhD in Robotics from the prestigious institution.

Her journey, marked by resilience and determination, culminated in a May 3, 2024 commencement speech that inspired fellow graduates and faculty alike.

Ogunbi’s path to success was not without its challenges.

Despite entering U-M’s mechanical engineering PhD program with academic honors and aspirations, she faced a setback when she failed her qualifying exams. Undeterred, she turned to her mentor, Professor Chad Jenkins, for guidance.

Recognizing her potential, Jenkins enlisted the support of Professor Jessy Grizzle, a key figure in U-M’s Robotics program.

Grizzle, despite his initial plans for retirement, welcomed Ogunbi into his lab, where she found a supportive community among her peers.

With renewed determination, she tackled her qualifying exams once again, this time with the encouragement of professors Kira Barton and Robert Gregg. Their mentorship and guidance proved instrumental in Ogunbi’s academic journey.

In her research, Ogunbi confronted challenges typical of academic pursuits, including working with outdated equipment and navigating technical hurdles.

Despite these obstacles, she persevered, developing innovative solutions and contributing to the field of bipedal robotics.

During her time at U-M, Ogunbi also distinguished herself as a community builder and advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM.

Her efforts earned her recognition, including a prestigious MLK Spirit Award and induction into the Bouchet Society.

Looking ahead, Ogunbi is poised to embark on the next phase of her career, with aspirations of securing a faculty position. Her story serves as a testament to the power of perseverance, mentorship, and the pursuit of excellence in academia.

As she reflected on her journey during the commencement ceremony, Ogunbi noted that social consciousness and inclusivity in academic and professional endeavors was crucial.

“I share this story to emphasize the critical importance for us to be socially conscious and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in our solutions,” she said.

Her words resonated with her fellow graduates, inspiring them to strive for excellence and make a positive impact in their respective fields.

Ogunbi’s historic achievement marks a significant milestone for U-M and the field of robotics, highlighting the importance of diversity and representation in academia.

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