From One Engineer to Another

On Friday, Deanna Yancey will receive a master’s diploma — from Tech’s first Black graduate, her grandfather.
Deanna Yancey With 'The First Graduate'

At this year’s Spring Commencement — almost 60 years after Ronald Yancey, EE 1965, became the first Black student to graduate from Georgia Tech — Deanna Yancey, his granddaughter, will earn a master’s in electrical and computer engineering. Not only will the elder Yancey be attending, but he’ll also be presenting the diploma to his granddaughter onstage at McCamish Pavilion.

And they couldn’t be more excited.

“This is huge,” Deanna Yancey said. “I probably will cry. I don’t usually cry in front of people, but I probably will get a little teary.”

Choosing Her Path

She began building computers with her father when she was growing up in Columbia, Maryland, and eventually realized she wanted to learn more about the electrical side of things. Yancey applied to, and was accepted at, Georgia Tech but chose to pursue electrical engineering at Penn State instead.

“I think my family was surprised by that decision but still extremely happy for me,” she said. After graduating, she began a three-year rotational program at Northrop Grumman in Maryland, which she will complete in August.

She also applied to Tech again, this time for an online master’s in electrical and computer engineering. “I didn’t tell my family I was applying, so when I got in, I got to read the acceptance email to my grandfather,” Yancey recalled. “He was so happy. He almost started jumping; he was so excited.”

With good reason.

‘That Is Inspiring’

Despite the hardships her grandfather experienced, he speaks highly of Georgia Tech. “That is inspiring to me,” she said. “Even though it was hard, you still recognize the institution for being top-notch and having some of the best engineers coming out of there. And, Tech has significantly changed — he’s very happy to have seen the changes.”

When she was younger, her grandfather didn’t display much Georgia Tech memorabilia around the house and rarely spoke about his time there. As a Black student at an otherwise all-white university in the early 1960s, Ronald Yancey faced the ugliness of backlash and hostility every day.

“Even now, he’ll talk about some of the things he went through, but he won’t tell us everything because he knows it would be upsetting to our family.”

Takeaways From Tech

Summing up her graduate school experience, Yancey said she appreciated “getting the same education as everybody else. They don’t treat the online students differently from the in-person students.” She was also excited that all her professors had industry experience and a passion for what they do. “I think it’s truly amazing to get that firsthand experience.”

Yancey couldn’t attend the 2019 unveiling of the First Graduate sculpture of her grandfather in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, but whenever she visits campus, she takes friends to see it.

While she is figuring out her next role at Northrop Grumman, she wants to pursue a career in management to help the next generation of young engineers.

Passing the Baton

“We are extremely proud that Deanna took the initiative to select her field, to quietly and quickly apply, arrange her curriculum, and follow through with the completion of her matriculation,” Ronald Yancey said. “Deanna's graduate degree is truly an impressive achievement."

From a granddaughter’s perspective, “It signifies the passing of a baton from one engineer to another. But more importantly, the struggle that he saw is not the struggle that’s going on now.”

Additional Media