When Taneisha Deans was growing up in Glenville, she thought of an engineer as someone who repaired cars or other large equipment.

But then she became part of Case Western Reserve’s Envoys program, and learned that the discipline included such fields as computer science, chemical engineering and even polymers.

“When I was younger, I didn’t really understand engineering,” she said, “that’s where this program helps out.”

For Deans, Envoys provided more than an introduction to the subject. It led her to a bachelor’s degree in 2012, and, next month, a doctorate in Macromolecular Science and Engineering.

“I had always heard about Case [Western Reserve],” she said. “My dad was always reading the newspaper and got me in the habit. Case [Western Reserve] was always in the news about some grant that [its researchers] received for cutting-edge research.”

Today Deans conducts some of her own cutting-edge research—specifically, finding ways to replace the hazardous materials in flame retardants with ones that are more environmentally friendly.

Administered through the university’s National Science Foundation-funded Center for Layered Polymeric Systems, the Envoys program provides underrepresented minority students from the Cleveland Metropolitan and East Cleveland school districts a chance to participate in intensive research and learn more about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

After becoming a student at Case Western Reserve, Deans embraced the opportunity to mentor Envoys participants—just as others had supported her. Her longtime faculty mentor David Schiraldi, for example, was the first to suggest she consider getting a Ph.D.

Schiraldi, the Peter A. Asseff Professor and Chair in the Department of Macromolecular Science, not only reminded her regularly that PhD was well within her reach—he also told her she could become “Dr. Deans”

Get to know Deans in this week’s five questions.

1. What do you like most about Cleveland?

I like the culture. You can go to the West Side and maybe get some really authentic Mexican food, or to Little Italy for some Italian food. But you can also go to the Cleveland Museum of Art [and] Playhouse Square. There’s just so much you can do to learn about the different cultures here.

2. What’s your favorite social media platform?

Facebook. I love Facebook.

3. What was the most influential class you’ve ever taken?

EMAC 355 [Polymer Analysis Laboratory]. I think it’s because it was a hands-on research class. I learn better by doing research, and it really separates the people who are meant to be scientists and engineers and those who are not.

4. If you could meet any historical figure, who would you pick, and why?

My historical figure would be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We actually share the same birthday, so I always thought that was really cool. But the time and turmoil that we’re having right now, where it’s the separation of cultures, it was something that was seen during his time. For him to stand up and be the voice of so many people, and really try to bring us together will always be something that we can live by.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The [Macromolecular Science and Engineering Department] because it’s a family over there. The students are great, the professors are amazing. Even though they have 80-plus students now, they’ll come up and ask “How’s your research going?” Or I could go and talk to any professor and say, “I’m having such and such problem,” and they’ll make a suggestion and help as much as possible.