Alumna Spotlight: Malika Grayson, M.S., Ph.D.

Malika Grayson outdoors in professional attire

November 9, 2020

Malika Grayson, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’16 is an alumna of the mechanical engineering program at Cornell. Currently, she works at Northrop Grumman Corporation as applications portfolio manager and serves as a new member of Cornell’s Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations.

What fueled your interest to work in this industry?

After graduation, I wasn’t ready to settle on one topic. I wanted to explore a bit. I applied to a very competitive rotational program at my company and once I got accepted, I knew that the opportunity to not just work on complex problems but work on varying problems over the course of three years would continue to motivate and interest me.

What is the most rewarding part of your work in this position?

One of the most fulfilling parts of my work is that I have the opportunity to learn new technologies on a regular basis. I have been able to experience different positions where I have worked on airborne systems and underwater systems. Not only am I able to apply some of my current technical skills but I am able to train and learn new skills for further technical capability development. The most rewarding part of my position is that whether you have developed a new process or technology, seeing your contribution having a wider impact beyond your team makes the work I do all worth it.

As a new member of the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations (CATN), what are your responsibilities?

As a new member, I work alongside the rest of the committee to review candidates and present the best slate of alumni-elected trustee candidates. As CATN members, we have to also ensure that we are engaged in the Cornell alumni community and encourage representative constituencies to participate and vote in elections. I am truly humbled to have this role as this opportunity allows for my voice and views to be heard when it comes to our alumni representation on the Board. It allows for diverse opinions not just across ethnicities but classes.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

I am currently reading ‘A Bridge to Racial Reconciliation’ by Latisha Morrison. This book is part of a reading assignment within my women’s group that has allowed a number of us from different backgrounds to have candid conversations and healthy discussions on race and how we can work towards improving race relations in our society, how people of color and our allies can build those bridges.

How did your Cornell graduate education prepare you to succeed professionally? What skills did you take away from your degree program that help you in your career?

I have taken away many non-technical skills from my graduate degree. While I used a few of my technical skills, the biggest impacts I have seen in my career are what we refer to as the “softer” skills. I have learned how to approach and break down complex problems, lead a team, manage projects, and navigate within a team, just to name a few. Graduate education prepares you for the navigation of the professional world in terms of being able to perform under pressure. While your technical skills evolve, the non-technical skills always stay with you.

If you could go back in time to the beginning of your graduate career, what advice would you give yourself?

I would remind myself to seek out a support system from day one. As a graduate student, the journey can be challenging and without others who truly understand, it is a difficult beginning. I would also remind myself that it is also ok to fail because that is when the best lessons are learned. Be gracious to yourself.