Women in Engineering: Theda Daniels-Race

Editor’s note: March is Women’s History Month, and the LSU College of Engineering is dedicated to celebrating the bright women who have forged careers in science and engineering. Each week, the College will feature a woman—an administrator, a faculty member, a graduate student, and an alumna—who has made a positive impact on the College and the industry.

When Theda Daniels-Race was a child, you could find her scanning her mother’s well-stocked book collection, taking apart her grandmother’s radio, or conducting a homemade experiment.

“I have loved science since before kindergarten,” Daniels-Race, an associate professor in the Division of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said in an e-mail. "I credit my Mom, an elementary schoolteacher, with giving me my first children's science book. Although she was a big proponent of kids being well-rounded through various interests, Mom always encouraged my scientific curiosity, be it through books, toys, or science fairs and clubs."

“However, I learned about engineering as a profession while a junior in high school via a pamphlet entitled—believe it or not—‘Women in Engineering’ that was given to me by my Dad, a high school math teacher and guidance counselor.”

She made up her mind about a lot of things at a young age. “I actually decided that I wanted to get a Ph.D. when I was five,” she said.

“I recall getting ready to start kindergarten and asking my parents about how long I’d be going to school,” she said. “My Dad said, ‘Well, you go to elementary, high school, and college, and then some people go on to get a master’s and a Ph.D.’ When I asked him what a Ph.D. was, I remember hearing the word ‘doctor.’ He did not say I should get a Ph.D. However, the scientists that I’d heard of were Dr. Einstein, Dr. Frankenstein and mad scientists from movies, so I figured that this doctor thing was what I’d need to become one, too.”

The “doctor thing” stuck. After receiving her bachelor of science from Rice University in 1983, Daniels-Race went for her master’s of science at Stanford University and then her Ph.D. from Cornell University. All three degrees were in electrical engineering with an emphasis in electro-physics during her doctoral studies.

During her academic training, she held jobs at Exxon Research & Engineering Co., General Electric, and AT&T Bell Laboratories. But, in the end, a career in the Ivory Tower was more alluring than one in industry.

“Academia really appealed to me as I neared the end of my doctoral studies,” she said. “Personally, I really enjoy learning, be that via research, teaching, or mentoring students.”

Daniels-Race first stepped into the classroom at Duke University, where she was responsible for the inception and successful development of the school’s first molecular beam epitaxial (MBE) laboratory and research program in the area of compound semiconductor epitaxial crystal growth. And then, in 2003, she returned to her native Louisiana and started with LSU’s College of Engineering.

She is currently developing a nanostructure characterization laboratory and investigating hybrid (organic and inorganic) materials and devices in the nanoscale regime.

Asked what keeps her motivated, she credited her students. She enjoys “having the opportunity to make a positive difference in a young person’s life,” she said. “And at this point in my career that includes both students and early-career faculty.”

Her advice to those mentees, particularly women and other underrepresented minorities in the field: “Do all that you should do and then some. Be proud of yourself, no matter what. And most of all, make sure that your efforts open the way for others to do the same and preferably even more.”


For more information contact Sydni Dunn, LSU College of Engineering, 225-578-5706, sydnid@lsu.edu