5 Questions with the Cockrell School’s O4U Leaders

May 30, 2021

As we prepare to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride month throughout June, we sat down with two recent Texas Engineering graduates, Emil Yongoueth (B.S. ASE 2020) and Joey Saad (B.S. ChE 2020), to talk about their experiences as students and professionals and their involvement leading the Out 4 Undergrad (O4U) Engineering Conference, an event put on by the O4U organization geared toward helping LGBTQ+ undergraduate students excel.

emil yongoueth and joey saad

What motivated you to attend and get involved with Out 4 Undergrad?

Emil: I attended the Out 4 Undergrad Engineering Program in 2017, 2018 and 2019. I first heard about O4U from a classmate in one of my engineering classes. At first, I was extremely hesitant to apply because I was not out at the time, but the idea of meeting other queer students gave me all the courage I needed to apply. I attended for several years because of the friendships I formed, the opportunities for personal and professional development, and for the career fair with access to many jobs and internships.

Joey: I was a student three times at O4U Engineering (2017, 2018 and 2019). I actually first heard about O4U from Emil; he sent a message advertising it in a random GroupMe we had both joined freshman year! I think the moment I heard about it, it honestly sounded too good to be true: free flight, free hotel, three-day recruitment experience, queer oasis — I applied the weekend I learned about it, and I couldn’t be more thankful that I did. My first O4U absolutely changed my life. I had never experienced such a successful LGBTQ+, STEM-focused space before in my life — and the representation, development and mentorship kept me coming back!

Going from being attendees of O4U to being leaders is a big step. Emil, you’re now the admissions director and Joey, you’re the programming director. Why were you passionate about becoming O4U leaders?

Joey: I remember that every year I would look up to the O4U leadership team as such strong role models. They represented a path I wanted for myself as a gay professional. This awe factor was compounded with the fact that I also loved the content I got to experience as an attendee. As I got more involved with O4U, I knew I wanted to help shape the conference one day to inspire students in the same way I had been inspired. I stand so passionately behind O4U’s mission because I have seen the way it changes lives firsthand. Although times are improving for young members of the queer community, there are still improvements to be made as we work toward equity, especially in STEM.

Emil: This is my first year being involved as a leader in O4U, and it has been really cool to see the other side of things. As a student attendee, I was always inspired by all the O4U directors, so once I graduated I decided that I wanted to be a part of the O4U magic. I am very passionate about the O4U mission because I believe and advocate that LGBTQ individuals have the same chance of success as anyone else. 

Let’s say a current student is interested in attending O4U, but they’re a bit hesitant to fully commit and submit their application. What advice to you have for them?

Joey: I think it’s important to note that O4U understands that the journey toward being comfortable with your authentic self is extremely different for everyone. This conference gives you the tools, resources and network to help understand how you fit into the professional world. If O4U is something you feel relates to you, or could help you at all, you are probably the target audience and we definitely want you to apply. The engineering team will work with you to make sure you have the support you need to be successful attending the conference.

Emil: I have been there and I get it. O4U is 100% worth it and was actually the first place I let myself be my most authentic self. The magical thing about O4U is that no matter where you're coming from, who you are or what you look like, this is a conference where you will be accepted, celebrated and form amazing bonds.

What are some ways that institutions like the Cockrell School can continue to support this community and become more inclusive?

Joey: I think inclusivity is something that trickles down from the top, and working toward becoming more inclusive is not always a huge shift; the small changes matter, too. This can look like encouraging leadership and professors to share pronouns on websites, emails or newsletters, or even including gender-neutral bathroom locations in a class syllabus. Beyond these, there are professors and leaders in the Cockrell School with unique, intersecting identities, and I feel the school can find ways to showcase these voices.

Emil: I think Cockrell could lead by example and get more involved in programs such as EOE. As an officer in NSBE, it meant the world when Dean Wood would show up to a general body meeting or when professors would say a few words at a Pi Sigma Pi meeting. If we see more Cockrell leaders participating in the same spaces that the students occupy, students will feel more included, which in turn will make the engineering school a more inclusive environment. A school needs to feel more inclusive to be more inclusive.

How do you celebrate Pride Month? And, what is the best way for people to join in the celebration and become LGBTQ+ allies?

Emil: Pre-pandemic, I liked to attend the local Pride parade with friends. This summer, I will focus more on LGBTQ nonprofit work since I can contribute more with virtual environments. I believe the best way for allies to celebrate is through LGBTQ activism and standing up for those within the community. Additionally, any type of nonprofit volunteer work for any of the various LGBTQ supporting organizations is always a great way to show your support to loved ones within the community.

Joey: Traditionally, I love to attend the Pride festival of whatever city I am in! This past year I have learned so much about true activism and the importance of mobilizing your dollar. For this Pride, I plan to do some research on queer organizations and donate to a cause I am aligned with. As we wait for the world to find its new normal, I think this Pride is a great opportunity for allies to do some self-education on topics such as queer history or policies that have impacted the LGBTQ+ community.

The Out 4 Undergrad Engineering Conference is September 9-12, 2021. For more information on the organization, the conference and to apply to attend, visit outforundergrad.org/engineering. The deadline to apply is June 6, 2021.