As a teenager, LeVette Martin worked really hard at not being smart. She wanted to be cool to fit in with her friends and classmates – a scene repeatedly played out by adolescent females in schools throughout the U.S. But, even if she had wanted to push her natural aptitude for mathematics and science, it would have been difficult as her high school offered few college preparatory classes.
Martin grew up in the Robert Taylor homes, part of Chicago’s inner-city projects, a place where disparity reigned and services, including the surrounding public schools, were sub-par. Thankfully, Martin’s mother-in-law (Martin had married soon after graduating high school) saw her potential and agreed to help send her to college. Physics, calculus and organic chemistry soon filled her mind and her days as a love for math and science enveloped her.
There was one big problem, as Martin discovered when her calculus teacher asked:
“LeVette, what’s your major?” Martin recalled, to which she replied, “Accounting.”
Martin soon learned what you might have already guessed; engineering suited her best. But, she says, in her world, an engineer was synonymous with a train conductor. “They didn’t teach us career paths at my high school. It was just ‘let’s get these kids graduated and out of high school’ because of where I grew up.”
Once she understood the reality of engineering – math, numbers, graphs, circuitry – she transferred to Northern Illinois University (NIU) to enroll in its engineering program.
NIU was newly accredited in engineering, and the professors pushed Martin to succeed as an African-American woman in engineering was an anomaly in the 1980s. But Martin was up to the pressure, graduating several years later with a degree in electrical engineering and a job offer from UL, where she has now worked for the past 19 years.
“At first there were many challenges because professors and classmates didn’t take me seriously, but I said, ‘Oh, I can do it!’ ” And she did.
Now a senior project engineer with UL’s appliances, HVAC and lighting (AHL) division, Martin not only helps ensure lighting products comply with safety standards against mechanical and thermal hazards but is also the lead auditor for the data acceptance program (DAP). Additionally, she has helped open UL labs in Brazil and volunteered at UL-sponsored science fairs.
Martin has embraced the UL mission statement, to make the world a safer place, believing completely in UL’s purpose. “When people go to the store and see the UL Mark on it, they know it is safe; and that makes me happy,” she said.
“I love what I do,” Martin concluded, “I really enjoy what I do.”