“Don’t sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” Madam C.J. Walker, a Black female entrepreneur and philanthropist, spoke these words in the early 1900s, yet the message resonates today, especially with GE Research’s Arnyah Brown-Countess.
Arnyah is a second-year Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP) participant who recently celebrated an amazing milestone – her first U.S. patent application. It’s impressive not just because she’s only one year removed from grad school, but because growing up in a low-income neighborhood, the odds were set against her.
Baltimore, Maryland is where young Arnyah immersed herself in math and science. She loved both subjects and knew she wanted more, but opportunities don’t always come knocking for inner-city kids. She credits her 11th grade science teacher, Ms. Washington, with introducing her to the world of engineering, and more specifically, bioengineering. From there you might think the rest is history, but adversity isn’t that easily shook.
“Since my mother prioritized education, I always knew I wanted to go to college, but being a first-generation college student, I didn’t know where or how to even go about the process,” said Arnyah. “I turned to the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), which provided resources and guidance, access to scholarships, and just an overall sense of community.”
The NSBE also gave Arnyah some much needed motivation. She was introduced to examples of Black excellence in technical fields, networked with engineers who looked like her, and grew empowered by the notion that representation matters.
Arnyah attended Delaware State University, earned a degree in bioengineering, and stayed connected with the NSBE. She then pursued a Master of Science in Bioengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University, the country’s largest historically Black university. It was there that Arnyah was introduced to GE Research.
“I’ve always been one to get involved in as many diverse research projects as possible and that’s what attracted me to GE Research,” she said. “It was not constricting; you could really jump in and experience the broad depth of GE’s expertise.”
A three-month internship with the GE Research Electronics team parlayed into the EEDP, which Arnyah joined in January 2020. The EEDP is GE’s pipeline for developing early career talent. Participants – known as Edisons – complete three to four rotations with a GE business in two to three years’ time, working on real engineering projects driven by GE business priorities.
Arnyah is closing out her first rotation with the GE Research Electronics team where her focus was on several sensor projects. The multi-gas sensor solution project, led by veteran GE researcher Radislav Potyrailo, is using an excitation scheme to create diverse types of sensors. These sensors use a sensing film that has electrical response to different types of chemicals and an impedance detector to interrogate the sensing film with an alternating current (AC) frequency dielectric excitation. Arnyah’s primary role was validating sensor performance in two ways by operating non-resonant and resonant sensing elements fabricated with different design rules and different electrode geometries. Most memorable learnings from these projects included designing and performing experiments, understanding the relations between the measured sensor responses and the design parameters of the sensors, recognizing the unique performance capabilities of these sensors in comparison to the known ones, and summarizing experimental observations into the insights about future sensors, and co-authoring a Patent Disclosure Letter.
Arnyah (far right) with members of the GE Research chapter of the African American/Affinity Forum (AAF).
For their work, the team has been granted several U.S. patents and have several patent applications, including one where Arnyah is a co-inventor.
The second project, led by Nancy Stoffel, focuses on development of novel, simultaneous multi-source electrical impedance tomography (EIT) to enable non-invasive real-time lung monitoring and assessment. Again, Arnyah is validating performance by fabricating prototypes, helping to run trials, and recording outcomes.
In addition to her professional responsibilities, Arnyah has become an active member of the GE Research chapter of the African American/Affinity Forum (AAF) saying, “The sense of community that the AAF provides reminds me of the NSBE.”
As a GE employee resource group, the AAF builds strong Black and African American talent through targeted professional development, mentoring, and career management. They also host community outreach events and organize fundraising drives to provide support to underprivileged students in the local community. The GE Research chapter, for example, works closely with schools in Schenectady, NY, an area with a high number of low-income families.
It's a familiar space for Arnyah and a passion-in-the-making that takes her story full circle; she’s now serving as the representation that she so desperately needed as a young, curious, and clearly motivated child.
“I think it’s important to show young kids – especially those who may not have access to certain resources or opportunities – that STEM is a realistic option. It’s attainable, and very much possible.”