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UL Engineer Sees World of Possibilities for Black STEM Students

UL’s Melvin Beasley joined UL because he wanted to see it all. From 3D technology to solar panel manufacturing, Beasley’s role positions him as a front-row observer to innovation.

Melvin Beasley poses pre-pandemic in front of UL board.

February 22, 2021

Nearly 13 years ago, UL Field Engineer Melvin Beasley received the phone call that changed his life. Well, it was a series of phone calls from a UL recruiter. At the time, Beasley worked for Texas Instruments in Richardson, Texas, and he'd never heard of UL, but the recruiter continued to call periodically and leave messages on his phone. 

"I finally called her back because I was tired of getting phone calls from her," Beasley said. "I was going to tell her to stop calling me."

Instead, he was intrigued by the role — working for UL's Field Services — and the rest was history. 

"I learned that I'd get to see new products as companies developed them; I'm talking about technologies such as solar panels, 3D printers, industrial control systems. It could be anything on any given day, and that piqued my interest," Beasley said. "There was a lot of room for growth in the role, and that excited me."

Now a manager in training, Beasley is one of only a statistically few Black male engineers in the U.S. — 1 in 32 to be exact. He knows firsthand the importance of diversity and inclusion. Black men make up only 3.2% of U.S. scientists and engineers employed in STEM occupations, according to a September 2020 report by the U.S. National Center for Science and Engineering. 

"Diversity and inclusion are important," Beasley said. "If a company only hires a specific group of individuals, they're missing out on a wealth of perspectives and thought processes. Diversity leads to better outcomes and a safer, sustainable and more secure world for all."

A 2008 graduate of DeVry University's Electronics Engineering program, Beasley offered insights into his role as a lead engineer, why he likes working for UL and how society can encourage more Black students to consider STEM careers in the future. 

When did you know that you wanted to be an engineer?

If my mom told the story, she’d say she knew I was going to be an engineer since I was around 4 or 5 years old. She and my father would see me taking apart toys and VCRs, upset that I was destroying them and wasting money. However, she also started to notice that those same items would be fully functioning days later. I knew I wanted to be an engineer in junior high school when we received computers in the library and a programmable robotic arm in shop class. It blew my mind, and I would sometimes go to the shop room after school or before football practice to learn how to use it. I became the best at manipulating the arm and hand to grab and place objects in my class. My path was clear at that point.

What does it mean to be a lead field engineer?

To be a lead field engineer, you've reached a level where you're responsible for auditing and ensuring that your co-workers are getting all their tasks completed. You're also there as a resource. If a co-worker is having difficulties, whether speaking with customers or technical training, the lead field engineer helps coach and encourage. 

You also on board new employees for your area. You brief them on the history of UL and the requirements of a field engineer. You teach them how to communicate with a client, and you go out with new employees to help them get that first inspection under their belt. We're there to help them communicate with the client, just a little shadowing to build their confidence. That's their opportunity to ask questions and interact one-on-one with the lead field engineer.

What kind of work were you doing when you first started?

When I first started, I was a field representative performing inspections and audits and visiting clients daily. I had anywhere from 500 to 1,000 clients to see within a quarter. I'd verify that the product tested and certified by UL was still being made to the same certification specifications. I'd have a list of critical components, and I'd go down the list, per the UL procedure, to make that analysis. 

How does your job build trust in products?

I might be a little biased, but in my experience, most customers use UL because of the weight behind the name. People know that we talk safety and certification, and we toe the line as well. We are customer-oriented, and when we find a safety issue, we work with the customer as a partner. When we express the concern to them, the customer knows that it's really something that could be a safety concern. 

What's the best part of working for UL?

For me, it's three factors: flexibility, job stability and having a voice. When I started working for UL in 2008, it was freedom. I wasn't micromanaged and I learned how to make my own schedule. I'd wake up, review my plan for the day, visit customers, then finish out the day by going home to complete paperwork. If I had questions, everyone at UL was accommodating, and my manager was great. Working for UL was perfect.

Around five years later, the market went through a correction and I started seeing some of my friends laid off. But UL was still standing strong. So at that point, the best part of working for UL was the stability.

And finally, the best part of working for UL is the fact that you have a voice. If you speak to somebody at UL, you've heard that things have changed a couple of weeks later. You tell yourself, "Wow, I made that change. Something I recommended actually made it to decision-makers, and it happened." 

What do you think of when you hear Black History Month?

Black History Month is a time to remember what people did for the Black race in the past. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the civil rights era leaders: that's what flashes through my mind when I think of Black History Month. They represent the big moments in history.

How can we encourage more Black people to pursue STEM careers?

It's about education, motivation and communication. First, it's educating Black communities about STEM opportunities and careers. I know from my personal history that my family and my school didn't discuss engineering. We had science classes and science projects, but nobody ever said, "Hey, you can be an engineer." Or "here's a list of the top universities in engineering." You're taught to do your best in school and get a job to pay the bills.

Next, we have to get the kids out of their communities and out of their comfort zones. It's not often that you see a busload of African American kids riding through a predominantly white area to see what else is out there. I think that is a massive roadblock because the world you grow up with is the world you know. But if you know what opportunities are out there, you get motivated. 

Finally, you have to talk to the kids in their language. The word engineer doesn't mean anything to them. You have to say, "Let's get into electronics, let's get into biomedical, let's get into the nanotechnology." Things like that interest kids.