Women’s History Month Interview by Derrel Jazz Johnson
In celebration of Women’s History Month, The Harlem Times spoke exclusively to Cheryl Hall, President of WisEngineering, LLC about when she discovered she wanted to be an entrepreneur, her work in the community, and what advice she would give to younger versions of herself.
“From a young age I remember certain families from my neighborhood; the ones that owned their own businesses seemed to value their accomplishments because they could see exactly how they earned them,” Hall says of first recognizing entrepreneurship. “The idea that I could chart my own path and see that my success was a direct result of my own labor sparked my entrepreneurial spirit! Independence was very important to my self-actualization as a professional.”
Hall also gave us a glimpse into what degrees, certifications, and even classes set someone up to run their own business. “Even though it wasn’t a hard and fast requirement, because I run a technology-based company, I pursued a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification,” Hall expressed. She earned an MBA from the Florida Institute of Technology with a concentration in Project Management while continuing to run her business successfully. Some of the courses that proved to be useful were marketing, financial analysis, human behavior, project management, business management, and business law.
Hall also discussed obstacles when she launched her business.
“When I started my business in 1998, I was a single mother who had just been laid off from a Fortune 100 company,” Hall recalled. “I turned that setback into a launchpad! So, 23 years later, leading an organization that survived everything 2020 threw at us is pretty high on the list. The number of small business closures is devastating. By being proactive we were able to ensure our employee’s ability to work virtually and continue to provide for their families during possibly the darkest time any of us will ever experience. I’m exceptionally proud and grateful for that!”
Hall also shared that accomplishments that speak to the company’s success is its ability to capture and execute multiple Department of Defense engineering services contracts. “Competing for and securing these multi-year contracts is the hallmark of a company’s success and a clear demonstration of trust in your ability to act in their best interest,” Hall shared. “Supporting the U.S. Army’s warfighters, ability to accomplish their mission is a tremendous source of pride for every member of our team. While we continue to provide highly technical systems engineering support, we now have a thriving Digital Reality Lab that produces sophisticated 3D AR/VR trainers.”
WisEngineering played a vital role in developing a network of volunteers with 3D printing capabilities and produced and shipped out thousands of much needed products including face shields and fasteners at no cost during the COVID-19 Pandemic. “Now that supply has normalized, we have transitioned that into a business opportunity and produce environmentally sustainable, high-quality articulating face shields, which are available to the public. I am very proud of our employees who saw a need and jumped into action. Outreach by business and technology leaders into the community affords the opportunity to imagine the possibilities, to explore the idea of a career in technology and perhaps even to ignite their entrepreneurial spirit.”
Hall also uses her position at WisEngineering to give back to the community, participating within the underserved community by teaming up with high-level engineers. “We engaged fourth, fifth and sixth graders in projects relating to chemical and electrical engineering. I shared my personal story and stressed that it takes an unwavering commitment, desire and focus – I must say the children were in awe and I could see the impact. I have sponsored and contributed to summer camp programs hosted by various defense and educational organizations where young women are immersed in STEAM and STEAM-based activities. I am grateful to have an opportunity to give back in any way to support and encourage children to think big and believe that anything is possible.
Hall says it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be in the position of mentoring and supporting outreach in her community. “In the past few years, I have been able to unite with other individuals and organizations with the goal of supporting disadvantaged members of the community in achieving their goals. Some of the activities we’ve undertaken to support the Picatinny and the NJ community have included WisEngineering creating and delivering an intriguing educational game, aimed at captivating a young girl’s interest in mathematical puzzles and problem solving. This game was displayed at the Liberty Science Center and was so popular the administrators have asked us to provide additional games and support. This was done in conjunction with Picatinny Arsenal Women in STEM program.
The company is currently working on a new initiative to improve the quality of VR and computer science technical education at the high school level and inspire students to pursue STEM careers in computer science, digital arts and animation, and information technology. In developing an outline and curriculum course of study, the company’s goal is to streamline entry into career opportunities with upward potential.
We asked Hall how she tackles racism and sexism.
“Both on a personal and professional level, of course, I have faced discrimination along the way,” Hall shared. “Building an organization that operates in the engineering and national defense industry provides challenges all their own. Over the years, I developed a strong network of professional colleagues and mentors who I count on to keep me focused and positive. It is never easy but always best to address the situation head on rather than miss an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive learning experience. It is important to keep the goal in mind to bring people together rather than allow it to create a greater divide. I am very proud of my black heritage and I still find myself in awe of the strong role models that have made great strides in leveling the playing field. I have found that delivering ‘truth to power’ has fostered confidence and instills in me a drive to work even harder to accomplish my goals.
Finally, we asked Hall what advice she would give young people battling racism and sexism.
“My advice to anyone just starting off on their career path is to surround yourself with strong role models, seek out a mentor-mentee type relationship, someone you can rely on to be a sounding board,” Hall suggests. “The building blocks of success include maintaining a strong work ethic, making the most of educational and personal growth opportunities and believing in yourself. Even if you are just starting along on your path, that is what will open doors for you in the future.”