When I first set foot on the Rice University campus, the contrast with my small hometown of Toomsuba was stark. Toomsuba, with its population of around 800 and a single area code, provided the starting point for my journey. Yet, I knew that to realize my dreams, I needed spaces larger than my quaint Mississippi town could offer.

For those like me – first-generation, low-income, queer students who attended the same elementary and D-rated high school as our parents and grandparents – the options for expansion were limited. Rice held promises, but the unexpected impact came from an initiative called Generation Conscious. This coalition of like-minded innovators, dedicated to providing sustainable hygiene products, turned my journey from Toomsuba into something truly transformative.

In the heart of Hanszen commons, an unusual vending machine caught my eye. It wasn’t snacks it dispensed, but rather free laundry detergent sheets, embodying a zero-waste, closed-loop system. This system wasn’t just environmentally friendly; it was regenerative for students like me. Generation Conscious redirected all funds back into student salaries, bridging the opportunity gap that often hindered students of color like me from high-value internships. It wasn’t just about financial empowerment; it was about breaking social barriers.

While part of my role involved maintaining the Hanszen station, the real adventure unfolded as I dived into my passion as an engineer. From optimizing humidity levels for hygiene products to collaborating on machine improvements, my technical skills evolved beyond the ordinary internship experience. I wasn’t just contributing to a cause; I was dismantling barriers in hygiene equity, creating databases, and exploring representation in BIPOC communities.

Yet, the true gem of the Generation Conscious experience lies in the connections it fosters. Tailoring my internship with the founder allowed me to connect with remarkable individuals like Lacie Pierre, a fellow Mississippian and Black sustainability advocate. The network expanded further, introducing me to Black women engineers from respected universities, providing a source of inspiration in an industry often unfriendly to women and fems.

This network proved invaluable as I stepped into interviews for full-time employment. Drawing on the technical knowledge gained through Generation Conscious projects, I secured a Manufacturing Assistant position at Whirlpool. My world, which had already expanded at Rice, became an oyster.

My story isn’t solitary. Rice alumni like Taylor Gilliam ’23 found their own transformative experiences with Generation Conscious. From managing social media to co-authoring a climate apocalypse Graphic Novel turned television project, the impact ripples far beyond the campus.

As I prepare to leave Rice, I advocate for ongoing support for initiatives like Generation Conscious. My hope is that the next generation of BIPOC and low-income students can experience the same transformative journey that broadened my horizons and shattered barriers. Generation Conscious isn’t just an initiative; it’s a narrative of breaking boundaries and creating opportunities for those who follow.


Contact us

Contact us at: