College of Engineering News Room
Scholarship Honors a Mother's Legacy
By Brad Stager
The debt that is owed to a parent who helps a child succeed is not easily repaid, but Lakecia Gunter has found a way to pay forward what she received from her mother.
Since earning her Bachelor of Science in computer engineering in 1995, Gunter has built a career recognized for technical expertise and industry leadership in promoting access to technology. As part of her vision to increase access to STEM education opportunities, she recently established the Barbara Griffin Memorial Family Scholarship, which reflects her personal commitment to supporting the aspirations of engineering students.
It is a commitment that was formed while growing up in Haines City, Florida, with Gunter’s interest in math and science fueling her own aspirations for a career in aviation.
“I actually thought about being a fighter pilot because I loved jets, and so I grew up with pictures of F-15s and F-16s on my wall," she said. "I'd be thinking, ‘Someday I’m going to fly one of those.’”
Also, part of Gunter’s early experience was support from her family, especially her mother, Barbara Griffin, who emphasized the importance of education and made sacrifices to provide needed resources for Gunter and her two siblings to succeed.
“My mom, for me, was just everything," she said. "As a single mom, she raised three girls on a shoestring budget and did everything she could to ensure we had a better quality of life.”
Gunter cited an example that helped launch her career.
“My mom worked extra shifts so she could buy me a computer, so I could create things, create programs and see what they would produce,” she said.
Besides providing technical tools and life’s essentials, Gunter’s mother also promoted the benefits of making learning a lifelong, personal habit by example.
“She loved to read," Gunter said. "She was such an avid reader; she could probably get through two books a day.”
Gunter acknowledges the positive impact her mother’s support had on her success and views the Barbara Griffin Memorial Family Scholarship as a way to spread the benefits she received to others.
“I wanted to honor her sacrifice and example as a single mom who put her kids first,” Gunter said.
She added that establishing a scholarship in her mother’s name is a way to "pay it forward to students who are pursuing degrees and deserve a chance but may not have all the dollars and resources they need.”
Gunter's journey from Haines City, Florida, home of citrus groves and roadside tourist attractions, to Silicon Valley went through Tampa and the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering. She said the kind of support she received from her family was also in place at USF.
“The administrators there really made me feel like I was part of their family and that they were there to support me and create opportunities for me," she said. "That’s why I absolutely have a love for USF and will forever be a strong supporter and partner in any way that I can.”
Among those at USF who Gunter cites as being especially supportive is Dr. Joy O’Shields, who directed the College of Engineering’s Minority Engineering Program.
“She really cultivated a community by first making us all feel like we were one big family," Gunter said. "She created an atmosphere for success by giving us the resources we needed."
“She brought with her a vast network of connections in academia and industry and opened it up to create new possibilities for all of us — from funding to attend conferences and pursue summer internships with Fortune 500 companies, to research and teaching assistant roles, to scholarships and fellowships," Gunter said. "Most important, she instilled in each of us a confidence that we could and would be successful no matter what challenges we faced. She created an 'I can' and 'I will' mindset that enabled us to persist in the face of any adversity and achieve our goals of becoming engineers."
Gunter was also a recipient of a Ronald M. McNair Scholarship, which honors the memory of Ronald McNair, an African American astronaut who died in the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986.
After graduating with her bachelor's at USF, Gunter earned her master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She's worked for the Department of Defense as well as private industry and has even taught seventh-grade mathematics for a while — an experience that yielded insights that have served Gunter well as a corporate executive.
“My view of the world is that people are people whether they are seventh graders or adults,” she said. “As a leader it's important to me to tap into each person's gifts and abilities in a way that will allow them to bring their authentic selves to the table to solve some of the most difficult but also the most exciting problems in technology."
Now, Gunter is a vice president and general manager in the Programmable Solutions Group at Intel Corporation, where she leads the ecosystem development and operations team. She is responsible for architecting and executing a strategy to drive the adoption of Intel® FPGA accelerator solutions in the marketplace and deliver revenue growth through the implementation of new business models.
Besides her daily work responsibilities, Gunter advocates for opening up STEM careers to the widest possible recruitment pool, serving as a member of Intel’s Network of Executive Women and the company’s Black Leadership Council.
Promoting STEM education through community organizations is another way that Gunter encourages people to participate in technology, and she is often a featured speaker at events such as the Black Women in STEM 2.0 Summit in 2019. Gunter’s achievements have been recognized by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Business Insider Magazine, National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and other organizations promoting inclusivity in STEM fields.
“Part of what motivates me is being able to create opportunities for others in the way that opportunity was created for me growing up,” Gunter said.
As busy as Gunter’s schedule may be, she still finds time to be a member of the University of South Florida College of Engineering Advisory Board. The board consists of leaders representing engineering and technology companies who advise the College about curriculum effectiveness, as well as industry trends and needs.
It's another way that Gunter maintains a close relationship with USF, and like the Barbara Griffin Memorial Family Scholarship, it's a way she supports the engineering students of tomorrow.