Brittney Exline is not your average 19-year-old. She is the youngest African-American engineer in the United States, and the youngest engineer to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, one of the Ivy League schools. She is also fluent in five languages, versed in psychology, math and classical studies, and a former pageant winner and dancer.
Exline’s story is one of remarkable talent, hard work and perseverance. She was born two weeks after her due date, on Valentine’s Day, and showed signs of exceptional intelligence from an early age. She could walk at eight months, complete jigsaw puzzles at 15 months, and read by the age of two. Her parents, Chyrese and Christopher Exline, encouraged her to pursue her interests and challenged her to excel academically.
Exline skipped two grades in elementary school and graduated from high school at 15, with an International Baccalaureate diploma. She studied anthropology at Harvard University while still in secondary school and later received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. There, she majored in computer science and minored in math, psychology and classical studies. She took up to 6.5 classes per semester and graduated cum laude in May 2011.
“I really don’t think it’s been any different, except for in the beginning people are always a little shocked to learn that, but if they get to know me, then they know that it’s just a number,” Exline said in an interview with NewsOne.
Exline’s passion for computer science stems from her love of math and logic. She said she enjoys the abstract and theoretical aspects of the field, as well as the practical applications. She also likes to explore different cultures and languages, and speaks Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, Arabic and German.
Exline has also gained valuable experience through internships and volunteer work. At 16, she worked as an investment analyst on the New York Stock Exchange. At 17, she was the youngest IT lead to travel to Cameroon with One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit organization that provides low-cost laptops to children in developing countries. She has also participated in various dance and pageant competitions, winning titles such as Miss Colorado Pre-Teen and Miss Colorado Jr. National Teenager.
Exline’s achievements are remarkable not only for her age, but also for her race and gender. According to the National Science Foundation, only 3% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering were awarded to African-American women in 2018. Exline said she hopes to inspire more young girls and people of color to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“I think it’s important for people to see that there are people like them who are doing these things,” she said. “I think it’s also important for people who are not like them to see that there are people who are doing these things.”
Exline is currently working as a software engineer outside of Boston and plans to attend graduate school in the future. She said she wants to continue learning new things and making a positive impact on the world.
“I think my ultimate goal is just to be happy and fulfilled with what I’m doing,” she said. “I want to do something that I enjoy, something that I feel like I’m contributing to society or helping other people.”
Brittney deserves a day of celebration. Another young girl who needs celebration is Anita Bennett. Anita is not your average teenager, at 14 years old, she has already accomplished what many adults can only dream of: earning three college degrees before finishing her first year of high school.
Anita, who lives in Ohio, is part of the state’s dual enrollment program College Credit Plus, which allows her to take high school and college courses simultaneously. Through this program, she has earned an associate of arts, an associate of technical studies in child care, administration, and management, and most recently, an associate of science from Cuyahoga Community College .
Anita graduated summa cum laude and received her associate of science degree at the 2023 commencement ceremony on May 19, where she was met with rapturous applause and a special recognition from the college president. She said that her motivation comes from her passion for learning and her family’s dedication to education. Read more about Anita here.