When Wesley Combs was attending Houston Community College in his 10th grade year, he was primarily interested in the liberal arts. Even before graduating, he had written novels, and he thought that would be his career.
However, his mindset changed when he saw his father, Warrick, addressing a room full of his fellow engineers. To that point, Combs hadn’t really considered that field, even though his father worked in it, because he didn’t see many other African-Americans involved in it. Seeing his dad give a riveting speech to his peers was like a lightbulb moment for him, though.
“I attended my father’s presentation, and it all became clear to me,” he said. “Seeing my dad on stage, working as an engineer, gave me a picture to see myself in. I could actually envision myself giving that same speech, walking across that same stage and embracing my own family. For once, I did not feel alone. I was not alone.”
That speech started a whirlwind of activity on Combs’ part, starting with a first place finish as a high schooler in downtown Houston’s Energy Day Festival, extending to his pursuit of a Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Houston, and culminating – for now – with his second award from the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) STEM Conference.
For 2021, Combs won the award for Student Leadership at the Undergraduate Level. In 2020, he received an award for winning the Student Research Competition Research. Beyond the awards, he has maintained a 3.93 GPA even as his courses have gotten more difficult, and he has been active tutoring and mentoring other students via his involvement with the Scholars Enrichment Program (SEP) and the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies (PROMES).
Combs said his father, Warrick, ended up working for BP for more than 20 years, before starting his own real estate investment business five years ago. In the speech that Combs saw, his father stressed the importance of providing for his wife Jarie and his family, which is understandable – Combs is one of 10 siblings, the oldest of Caleb, Alanna, Laila, Cameron, Sara, Joshua, Micah, Jessica and Julia.
A generous scholarship offer and UH’s standing as a Tier One research facility attracted Combs to campus, after finishing his high school and HCC coursework.
“I had also been interested in transferring to UH for a while, so I figured I could get to know the campus, faculty and students while I was doing my research,” he said. “Many faculty members have had a positive influence on me since I enrolled at UH. Jakoah Brgoch gave me my first undergraduate research opportunity while Holley Love and Farah Hammami have been my favorite mechanical engineering professors because of their passion for helping students succeed in difficult classes. Jerrod Henderson and Eduardo Cerna have given me opportunities to tutor, advise and support fellow STEM students as well as receive academic and professional guidance for myself.”
Combs is a member of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, the National Society of Black Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Combs has also completed three professional internships – with Boeing, the National Science Foundation and Verizon. The latter held a STEM fair for middle school students, and it was a sort of “full circle” moment for Combs, which he described in a personal essay.
“As the kids left and the interns prepared to go to the next school, one of the children, a young Hispanic girl, asked the young man if he really thought kids like her were smart enough to be engineers,” he wrote. “He smiled and said that if he could do it, anyone could. The girl smiled back and left the bus. That was the first time I had the chance to publicly present my STEM experiences. It was also the moment I realized how satisfying it is to inspire others.”
Combs hopes to continue inspiring others as he continues his educational pursuit at a graduate school in Fall 2021.