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Showcasing Black Excellence, One Degree at a Time


This Black History Month, one GM employee shares how he found confidence and community as an HBCU alumni ...

My name is Stephen Pace, and I’m a 9-year GM employee and senior software engineer in manufacturing IT. As a graduate of a historically Black college or university, or HBCU, college was more than just the place where my higher education began — it was where I found the confidence to dive head-first into my passion for engineering and technology.

Black culture and confidence

In 2002, I started my college career as an electrical engineering student at Prairie View A&M University: a historically Black institution founded in Texas in 1876.  Like Prairie View, most HBCUs are in the U.S. South, where they were born out of necessity as Black students were barred from attending established American universities.

As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I knew I would love the atmosphere. There were activities and weekly events, including live music, Greek life, and more. It was invigorating to be surrounded by so many students with similar life experiences to myself. Socially, I was able to engage with numerous on-campus organizations geared towards students of color — from Black engineering organizations, to Greek organizations, to honor societies and more.

Something that stood out to me was seeing others who looked like me in leadership positions at the university. If you're a person of color who has ascended as a leader, there’s a good chance you had similar experiences as me throughout your journey. Seeing these leaders gave me the confidence to realize if they could lead, so could I.

GM Employee with family at graduation

Beyond the HBCU

After graduating from Prairie View, I attended a state college in Michigan where I obtained my master's degree in electrical engineering in 2008. Then in 2011, I completed a PhD in electrical engineering, where my research was focused in automotive. I was surrounded by students from all ages, races and genders at my state university, but because of systemic gaps in higher education, it was often challenging to find other Black students in my grad program. In fact, according to U.S. Census data from 2021, only about 10% of those with master’s degrees — and only 8% of those with PhDs — are Black.

In many professional spaces, and even within my community, I often find myself as the only Black person in the room. While diversity is a vital part of any community, it’s also important to have comradery with others who have faced similar experiences and challenges.

My time at an HBCU helped build my comfort and confidence and showed me that I wasn’t alone. Here at GM, I’ve found similar community through the GM African Ancestry (GMAAN) employee resource group, where I’ve been able to engage with others of common backgrounds and interests.

This Black History Month, I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to share my story and celebrate what HBCUs have done for me and my community. 

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