Last week at the University of Illinois graduation ceremony, Dr. Yemaya Bordain walked up to the stage to receive her diploma and she kept walking straight into the history books. She is the first ever African American woman to receive a doctorate degree from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois, a fact that surprised even her.

But even a quick glance at Dr. Bordain's academic track record suggests that her achievements are anything but surprising. She excelled during her time at Illinois, receiving several awards for research, recruitment, and outreach.


She came to Illinois from Clark Atlanta University, where Dr. Bordain received her Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering and her Master’s in Computer Science.

Dr. Bordain's path was bright to begin with. She started her studies as an Electrical Engineering undergraduate student, where she received the “Outstanding First year Student” award as a freshman for excelling academically amongst her peers. She maintained scholarships throughout her undergraduate studies from industry leaders such as Intel, Lockheed-Martin, and Boeing. She interned as a process engineer with General Electric in her sophomore year and shortly after, in 2006, accepted a position as a research assistant for NASA’s High Performance Polymers and Composites Center, and received the “Undergraduate Student of the Year” award from Clark Atlanta University in 2007.

During her Master's, Dr. Bordain focused on the coupling efficiencies for magnetic biomedical devices. After receiving her Master’s from Clark Atlanta, she continued her Master’s research with biomedical devices as a research assistant with U of I’s chapter of WaterCAMPWS. WaterCAMPWS, or the Center for Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems, was a center funded by the National Science Foundation, and led by Mark Shannon, beloved professor of Mechanical Engineering at U of I that passed away tragically from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2012.

Trailblazing at Illinois

It was the prestigious National Science Foundation Fellowship for graduate studies at UIUC that brought Dr Bordain to our great University. She researched as a member of Professor Logan Liu’s Nanobionics group, a group specializing in nanomedicine, mobile health, agricultural sensing, and nanophotonic technologies. The Nanobionics lab is responsible for creating novel research such as microelectric devices to sense Nitrate in water, cancer bio-marking compounds and “smart” chemotherapy, and MoboSens, a smartphone app that can perform water contamination sensing and medical biofluid analysis.

Dr. Bordain's research with magnetic nanoparticles and their uses in biomedical sensing aimed to put magnetic nanoparticles on the map and secure their credibility for medical uses in the scientific community. The employment of magnetic nanoparticles for contrast has long been used in MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tissue scanning, the scientific technique of which was developed by Paul Lauterbur, late professor of biophysics at U of I and 2003 Nobel laureate.

Dr. Bordain’s graduate studies at UIUC were an extension of her Master’s studies and aimed to improve on standard methods to characterize electrical circuits. During her time as a Ph.D. candidate at U of I, she co-founded the Graduate Engineers Diversifying Illlinois (GEDI) in efforts to recruit and ensure academic success for underrepresented communities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs at Illinois. Since co-founding GEDI, Dr. Bordain successfully made four doctoral candidate recruits to STEM programs at UIUC.

Also during her time as a graduate student at UIUC, she was named a “Rising Star in Electrical and Computer Engineering” and received the Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Program’s “Trailblazer” award for being the first African American Woman to receive a doctorate degree from the program.

And, here, folks, is the icing on the cake: Dr. Bordain is a wife and mother of two kids! Dr. Bordain will be moving to Phoenix, Arizona in the coming weeks with her husband, Zach, and their children to begin her career as an engineer with Intel, the corporate giant known for their computer processor manufacture and development.

We can only expect greatness in the years to come from Dr. Bordain, and U of I can add another to its list of exceptional alumni. She has opened the door for a new generation in tech, one that will challenge the status quo and push to include and propel those underrepresented at Illinois.

For more information on the Nanobionics Lab, visit Logan Liu’s Nanobionics Lab. For more information on Electrical Engineering at Illinois, visit ECE at Illinois.