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Jordan Powell: Opening the Door to People Who Look Like Me

February 25, 2021

Heavily inspired by her talent and passion for art, Jordan Powell, a UX Design Lead for IBM Security, has pursued a career in User Experience (UX) that allows her to incorporate design thinking...

Heavily inspired by her talent and passion for art, Jordan Powell, a UX Design Lead for IBM Security, has pursued a career in User Experience (UX) that allows her to incorporate design thinking into her day-to-day role of building more user-friendly products and experiences.

Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? What did you study in college?

I’m from Hampton, Virginia and went to Virginia State University, an HBCU. I got my BFA in visual communications, and art and design. It definitely helped me set a foundation for where I wanted to go in my career and thinking about design as a way into the world of STEM. Shortly after I got my MFA in UX and Graphic Design at Savannah College of Art and Design.

Describe your IBM career journey. And, how do you explain your job to people outside of IBM?

My IBM career started as a senior designer on our market development and insights team (MD&I). With that team, I was able to lead two rebrands that helped increase usability across the business unit as well as implement IBM Design Language and Design Thinking practices into everyday processes.

I currently sit on the security team as a UX Design Lead for IBM Verify. I just transitioned to my current team in 2020 and I’m having such a great time. My current role allows me to mentor young designers, help work on design strategy, as well as conceptualize and carry out innovative ways to increase our business with our Offering Managers and development teams. 

What set you on the road to where you are?

Entering undergrad, I had a love for journalism, and all things art and design. While these are still passions of mine, the world had started to shift to a more digital space, so my passions began to align with discovering new ways to be creative, digitally. This led me to UX and Web Design.

When I completed my BFA, I started looking into master’s programs where I could further my training. That particular journey allowed me to get my MFA in user experience and graphic design. 

I used to think STEM was just about science, technology, math, and engineering. Over time, I view it as less rigid and believe there is a rich design component that is involved in all of those things. 

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

Don’t be fearful about what you want to do. You can create your own path. That may be scary right now, but someone has to do it. Someone has to create these paths for other people and be fearless.

I would also encourage myself to not be intimidated by not seeing any or many other Black women in the room. Use that as fuel to open doors for more.

What or who has inspired you along the way?  

My father is my biggest inspiration. He has always made me feel like what I am passionate about is okay and worth pursuing. He is the reason why I feel empowered to do the things I do. I love him so much and am so thankful for both his and my mother’s unconditional love and support of me.

I am also continuously inspired by Black women specifically. I feel honored to be a part of such an amazing group of trailblazers and feel that it is my duty to continue to find ways for us to be empowered, uplifted, and granted the opportunities we deserve.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what's needed to affect positive change? 

For a while, I found it kind of difficult to find Black women within the design and STEM field doing what I want to do. I’ve never had a mentor, or someone I could consult professionally, who looks like me, or has had a similar journey in this space. I use this gap to drive why I do volunteer work with anything involving serving and amplifying the voices of Black women or marginalized groups.

In my personal time, I volunteer a lot with Black Girls Code. It’s a group that I love so much. I recently participated in a hackathon focused on Afrofuturism and it was great to see other IBMers volunteering for the event as well. I work with P-Tech interns too, which is really rewarding.

I think these initiatives are important because they open up a door that wasn’t necessarily there for [me] at that age.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Personally, I live a full life celebrating my ancestors. I live a full life of celebrating Black Excellence and supporting my community, 365 days of the year. I think that Black History Month gives everyone a dedicated time to highlight rich culture, rich experiences, beautiful people and brilliance that we owe a lot to. 

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