By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WOODSTOWN – If you live in New Jersey, you may be walking on or driving over some of Brandon Taylor’s best work – but he’s just fine with that.
As a senior engineer overseeing construction on state highways in bridges with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the Rowan University graduate and Woodstown native has quickly set himself apart in a field in need of diversity.
At 28, not only is Taylor one of the few African-Americans engineers working in the state, but one of the youngest senior engineers as well.
“It’s been a great experience over the past six years,” Taylor said recently to Front Runner New Jersey.com. “Each year, I feel like I’ve taken on more and more responsibility. I remember working for a small engineering firm doing primarily drafting work to when I first got hired by New Jersey Department of Transportation and started focusing on construction inspection.
“But, this past year has been the biggest jump for me. I finally became a senior engineer and resident engineer for state and federal funded construction projects. As a RE I’m in charge of making sure all construction taking place follows the New Jersey’s specifications for construction. At the same time, I also oversee my staff, which is comprised of construction inspectors,” he added.
Fastest Man in Salem County
Those who follow local South Jersey sports will likely remember Taylor as a standout football and track athlete at Woodstown High School and running at Rowan, where he graduated in 2013. He was once called the fastest man in Salem County.
“I learned how to be a leader from track and field and football,” Taylor said. “I was one of the leaders for the sprint team, so I would give guidance and help the younger sprinters who looked up to me. I apply this to my current work environment by understanding my role as a leader.
“I make sure the inspectors working for me understand that we work as a team in order to complete our goal. I learned how to make decisions under pressure and to stand by those decisions and hold myself accountable,” Taylor continued.
Taylor said he knew he had a strong interest in engineering and understanding how things work at an early age. As he discovered his own talents, it attracted him to the STEM fields.
“Well, I’ve always had an interest in engineering and understanding how things work in general from a very young age,” Taylor said. “I would constantly take a part electronics and try to figure out the inner workings and how each part functioned, all while making sure I could put it back together.
“Also, during high school I realized my two strongest subjects were math and science. So I naturally leaned towards the STEM field. I knew graduating high school I was either going to be a computer science, or civil and environmental engineering major. In the end, I went with civil and environmental engineering because it seemed like a broader field, and I would have more career options,” he said.
Support That Made a Difference
Taylor counts his parents, Michael and Patricia Taylor, as his biggest inspirations. He said that his parents made him realize how the big and little things can make a tremendous difference in life and give you the edge that one needs.
“My dad exemplifies everything I believe a strong Black man should be – smart, caring, wise, and willing to and able to provide for his family,” Taylor said. “My dad taught me many life lessons. One that really stuck with me was when he told me, as a young, black man in order to be successful I was going to need to be twice as good as everyone else. That really resonated with me and made it clear that being average would not be enough to be successful.
“My mom showed me how to be kind and caring. Her unconditional love and support made it easy for me to push myself and take bigger and bigger risks. One of the things I learned from my mom is how being organized and clean can make doing almost any task easier. The knowledge of being organized helped me from having a clean room to being able to find my shoes to running a multi-million dollar construction project and having all my files and paperwork in order,” he added.
Taylor said growing up Woodstown, with a small black population, prepared him for what it would be like entering the STEM field as a young African-American male.
“Well considering there were a small amount of black people in Woodstown, most of us knew each other and were friends,” Taylor said. “We formed our own community. In school, I usually ended up being the only black person in class. I got very used to being the only black person in the room, so much so, that it does not brother me much today in my work environment.
“I’m very comfortable speaking my mind even if I am the only black person in the room or if I share an unpopular opinion or view. With that being said, it is always nice to see another black engineer who I can relate to and talk to about our shared experiences,” he said.
As a collegiate athlete with a heavy STEM course load, Taylor said he learned valuable time management skills at Rowan to do everything he wanted to do.
“I had to make sure I knew what things took precedent over the other and where I should focus most my time,” Taylor said. “For me, schoolwork came first, then track, and lastly, my part-time job. Having that hierarchy allowed me to always make sure my time was spent focusing on what was most important to me.
“If I knew a test was coming up and I had to study, I would inform my track coaches that I would be late to practice or that I would have to leave early. My coaches respected the fact that I was upfront about my priorities, which in turn, made it easy for me to always let them know of any potential time conflicts,” Taylor continued.
Taylor said with such few blacks in the engineering field, he takes being a role model for those coming behind him seriously and always wants to represent himself well.
“Growing up I never had someone I could look up to or what I considered to be a mentor in the STEM field,” Taylor said. “In the future, I want to become more involved in mentoring young, black men who are getting into the STEM field. I look forward to combining my love of athletics and engineering into coaching track and field.”
His advice for young African-Americans who maybe considering a STEM career?
“Well not to be too cliché, I would say to never give up,” Taylor said. “As young, black professionals, you will have to overcome certain barriers that other people won’t have to. There will be times when people will doubt your intelligence and ability simply because of your skin color.
“You will probably be the only black student in the classroom, but you have to be comfortable with who you are and your abilities to not let that deter you. You may feel an added sense of pressure to do well because there will be those who want to see you fail. But it’s up to you to remain persistent and show those wanting to see you fail that you will not,” Taylor said.
Finding Cause in SJYDBC and NAACP
Away from engineering, Taylor is an officer with the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus and is a member of the NAACP Camden County East Chapter.
“My girlfriend, Fatima Heyward, was a big push to me joining the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus and the NAACP,” Taylor admitted. “Fatima really encouraged me to join both organizations, pointing out that there was a lack of Black men involved in politics or social policy. During the formation of SYJD Black Caucus, Fatima was in need of a treasurer.
“Looking at the goals and vision she had outlined for SJYD Black Caucus, I felt more than comfortable stepping up to be the treasurer for the organization. Another reason I joined was that I wanted to get more politically involved after Trump won the 2016 election.”
He said the presidential election made him see politics in a different light and believed the groups would give him an avenue to express his feeling that he did not previously have.
“Seeing so many people falling for the fear mongering, the scapegoating, and flat out lies Trump would tell was very surprising to me,” Taylor said. “I also realized that not everyone shared similar views to me, so I wanted to get more involved to begin to understand other people’s viewpoints.”
Taylor said he is looking forward to continued work with NJDOT as well as wanting to be a volunteer track coach. His big plans include family and discovery.
“In five years, I see myself starting a family and owning a home,” Taylor said. “I still see myself working for the NJDOT, but having gained the title of a project engineer. I would possibly be working as a field manager overseeing multiple construction projects at once. I also see myself making my own scientific discovery; one that would change how we view the world around us. I have a very strong interest in aerospace engineering, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics, so if I made a scientific discovery it would probably be in one of those fields,” Taylor said.