Yves Nazon

5+ Year Ph.D. Student in Mechanical Engineering, Michigan Engineering

Yves Nazon is a Ph.D. student who has advanced inclusion in robotics, increased awareness of underrepresented students in engineering, and as a GSI works to make the curriculum accessible and enjoyable! He has been promoting diversity in Robotics around the country through outreach, connecting with a diverse group of students that may have never considered graduate study. Through his own initiative, Yves planned a multi-campus speaking tour at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the University of North Carolina, NC State University, North Carolina A&T, and UCLA. In this effort, he presented his graduate robotics experience, engaged one-on-one, and helped mentor and advise those considering U-M. Following his example, other Robotics students have since traveled to schools in Puerto Rico, Howard University, and Florida A&M to conduct similar outreach. 

Yves also led engagement activities with young black male scholars from Marygrove in The Hidden Genius Project when they visited campus from Detroit. Additionally, Nazon is the student co-lead for Black in Robotics, a national non-profit that addresses systemic inequities by focusing on community, advocacy, and accountability.

Being your best DEI self: Think of a time when you were at your best at advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. What happened? Who was there? Why did you feel at your best?

“In 2020, I helped plan and execute the first Juneteenth celebration in the EECS department’s history. I also spoke as a student panelist for the event. It was throughout this process that I felt like I did my best job of advancing DEI efforts.
I demonstrated strong teamwork skills, which highlights the cooperation necessary to complete a vision that has a lasting impact.

An example of this is the numerous planning meetings where I coordinated with my fellow students, multiple faculty members, EECS staff members. I also unabashedly critiqued the shortcomings of the academic system were apart of and how it places an inequitable and unfair burden on students of color to perform DEI work. This demonstrates the courage and candor needed to further DEI efforts because to make progress you need to mend faulty parts of a system. These actions allowed me to feel at my best because I was able to contribute to multiple facets of the DEI process that I feel are important.

Both the encouraging and collaborative as well as the tough and uncomfortable. Through these actions, I was able to create an event that did not exist before, signaling to future students that they have the power to create reoccurring and lasting events. I collaborated with and supported my colleagues in the creation of an event that was important to them, underlining the importance of working together to make a change. I met new people, which is both something I enjoy and critical for understanding a broad scope of perspectives. I articulated the frustration that I and communities close to me, feel regularly to a group of people that might not have been aware otherwise. All of this occurred with the best part being that I was able this work in service of a community that is important to me, the African American community.”

In envisioning the future, how would you describe progress in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion? What might it look like?

“I think progress in the field of DEI will look like an increase in the number of people in positions of power who have a fundamental understanding of how inequity negatively affects diverse populations. I think this is important because I see the current state of DEI as a large collection of people who care about the mission, but suffer from a dearth of visceral understanding of how current policies negatively affect groups they are not a part of. I believe this leads to solutions that, while well-intentioned, tend to lack effectiveness for the communities they hope to help.

In the future, I think this will look like a DEI workforce that not only includes people with the lived experience necessary to create effective policies but also includes people from historically non-oppressed backgrounds who are not just sympathetic but empathic to the plights of the DEI communities they hope to serve. When these groups combine, I believe they can use their comprehensive knowledge of all stakeholders (those affected, decision-makers, etc.) to create solutions that work for not only the people they are intended to help but also in the spaces where the historically disenfranchised do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. To me, this looks like employees who have deeper connections than the typical acquaintanceships one might have with people from these marginalized communities. It looks like people who eat, fraternize, and live with people who they hope to help.”

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the MLK Spirit Awards?

“To be nominated for an MLK Spirit Award is a multi-faceted honor for me. The first reason why is due to the namesake of the award. Of course, MLK’s peaceful exploits are well known, but to be nominated for an award named after a man who inspired other others, spoke candidly, and brought together people from all occupations is truly heartwarming because I strive to be a man like that.

Secondly, and more importantly to me, is because I was nominated for this award by someone in my community. The efforts that I do to further DEI work at Michigan are because I know what it is like to not feel comfortable in a space that you may frequent more than your own home. I do these efforts because making that same space easier to navigate or more comfortable for someone else brings me joy.

I do this work for my contemporaries and those that will come after me. So to know that someone has seen my efforts and was moved enough to take time out of their day to nominate me is really heartwarming because, while that’s not what I work for, it feels great to have your community look out and care for you the same way you do for it.”

Yves Nazon