“I want to ensure that money or exposure are never factors in Black students earning degrees in engineering. I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy of civil rights activism and protecting communities. I’ve dedicated my life to affecting real change for people of color in my industry, teaching the next generation of engineers, and helping to provide clean, affordable water resources for local communities.”
– ValaRae Partee (BSENVE ’14)
ValaRae Partee (BSENVE ’14) is an engineer at one of the top environmental consulting firms in the country. She designs and builds facilities that provide clean water to millions of Americans, and while the job is highly technical, her choice of career path wasn’t: she wants to help others.
Partee’s grandfather dreamed of becoming an engineer, but was discouraged due to the lack of visibility of Black engineers. This turned out to be a major influence on Partee’s career trajectory.
ValaRae and her grandfather at the 2022 40 Under 40 event, where she was an honoree.
“When my grandpa went off to college, he wanted to be an engineer,” she says. “His father said, ‘show me another Black man in engineering, and I’ll pay for your degree.’ Sadly, he couldn’t find a similar face, so he pursued another career path.”
Partee carried his story with her during her time at UGA. She knew Black students needed to make connections to both people and resources when pursuing a career in engineering, and her grandfather always encouraged her to help others … so she did.
One way Partee accomplished this was by partnering with her friend, Jonathan Jones (BSBCHE ’13), to establish the UGA chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in 2012. When she wasn’t creating groups like NSBE to provide connections for Black engineering students, she was involved in already-established organizations like the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Each of these groups impacted her life and provided her many opportunities.
ValaRae at breakfast with her grandpa.
Nine years later, Jones came to Partee with an idea in the same vein as their creation of the NSBE chapter: to fund a Black Legacy UGA Engineering Scholarship that would continue their families’ legacies of Black excellence. The idea was a perfect fit for Partee to continue supporting Black engineering students at the university she loves.
Jonathan (left) with ValaRae at an engineering conference in 2012.
“I want to ensure that money or exposure are never factors in Black students earning degrees in engineering,” says Partee. “I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy of civil rights activism and protecting communities. I’ve dedicated my life to affecting real change for people of color in my industry, teaching the next generation of engineers, and helping to provide clean, affordable water resources for local communities.”
The Black Legacy UGA Engineering Scholarship Fund will promote diversity at UGA, will honor the heritage of the university’s first Black trailblazers—Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63), Hamilton Holmes, Sr. (BS ’63), and Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67)—and provide scholarship funding for an undergraduate student in the College of Engineering.