Black History Month 2023 Feature: Terrence Southern

Terrence Southern is an award winning Robotics & Automation expert, speaker, influencer of innovation, entrepreneur and philanthropist who is a nationally recognized thought leader, strategist and consultant in the manufacturing automation industry and STEM Education & Workforce Development. He continues to implement strategies to deploy robotic solutions and machine learning technology across the globe. Over the course of his career, which spans over 20 years, he has installed more than 2000 robots on projects the across the world for multiple Fortune 100 companies. Terrence is past participant in the Aspen Institute Roundtable discussion on Artificial Intelligence participant and 2012 BEYA recipient. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences relating to Robotics & Artificial Intelligence and Youth STEM events. Mr. Southern has been the recipient of numerous awards for service to the manufacturing industry and community at large. In addition, several global publications have featured Terrence’s accomplishments throughout his career.

What is your STEM focus area?

Industrial Robotic Manufacturing and Research & Development, STEM Education and Future Workforce Development.

How did you become interested in STEM? 

Robotics found me during my internship at General Motors in 1999. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a Robotics Engineer.  Just prior to graduation, I completed my senior project by developing a voice activated robotic instructor that moved around the room while vocally providing grades to students in the class. After 22 years, I have no regrets as it is a career that I love.

Who were your mentors?

I had no mentors in Robotics but I had several in the field of Engineering who kept me encouraged as I walked an uncertain road alone.  Ray Roberts (retired) and Telva McGruder (Chief Diversity Officer). As I have grown in the industry, I have learned to navigate my way to success through networking with various industry leaders.

What is the most challenging thing you have found about being in your field?

When I began my career in Robotics there wasn't anyone who looked like me in my field.  It was very challenging being the Jackie Robinson of Robotics. I often felt like I had to be 10 steps ahead of everyone else to stay prepared for anything possible. That same challenge is what grew me personally and helped me overcome the additional challenges encountered during the process of a successful career.

What strengths would a student need to be successful in your career field? 

Confidence and self motivation to problem solve and be innovative in the midst of uncertainty. 

What words of wisdom would you give to students?

Don't sit back and wait to be invited to have a seat at someone else's table, build a new table. Dream BIG!

Anything else you would like to share?

Due to the lack of representation with people of color in the field of robotics, I founded Illuminate STEM ( to fill the gap so others can follow in the pathway I created. Illuminate S.T.E.M. provides learning opportunities that ENCOURAGE, EMPOWER and EQUIP historically underrepresented communities to innovate the technical future of tomorrow.

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