Being a standout is nothing new for Brittney Exline. The Colorado Springs, Colo., native made history in 2007 at the age of 15 when she became the youngest African-American female accepted into an Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
Exline has made history once again as the school’s youngest engineer and the nation’s youngest African-American engineer. The 19-year-old recently graduated cum laude, earning her bachelor’s degree in computer science. Already, she’s landed a job with a software company outside of Boston.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” said Exline. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. Being 19 doesn’t bother me. It’s just being fresh out of college and having a new transition.”
The graduate of Palmer High School’s International Baccalaureate program studied anthropology at Harvard University while still in secondary school and later received a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania.
Exline, who speaks Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, Arabic and German, doubled her loads to graduate in four years with minors in math, psychology and classical studies. “I’ve never had less than five classes,” she said. “But I’ve had as many as 6.5 classes. I just made sure I had time to study. I went into the engineering school undeclared. I didn’t want to do chemical engineering. Computer science is a lot more theoretical and closer to math. I liked that part. It’s more abstract. That contributed to my strength.”
Born on Valentine’s Day—two weeks after her due date—Exline is the daughter of Chyrese and Christopher Exline, who works in copier sales. Chyrese always knew her daughter was special. Little Brittney was making pyramid designs with blocks at 6 months old, walking at 8 months old and completing 24- to 100-piece jigsaw puzzles at 15 months old.
“She kind of came out that way with good advocating,” said her mom, a former geriatric administrator and part-time pageant coach. “I’m very involved in the school district. I did the same with my son. We made sure they got everything they needed to succeed. I made sure they remained committed even when they wanted to quit. They learned you can’t quit an activity just because it’s hard. Sometimes you need to stick with something. That’s the only way to learn how to persevere and overcome true obstacles. Eventually, it becomes a part of you. I believe this.”
Exline, a dancer whose held many pageant titles including 2004 Miss Colorado Pre-Teen and 2006 Miss Colorado Jr. National Teenager, was fortunate enough to find internships each summer. At 16, she worked with Sophrosyne Capital Hedge Funds as an investment analyst on the New York Stock Exchange. A year later, she was the youngest IT lead to travel to Cameroon with two other Penn students for One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit organization offering inexpensive laptops designed for children in developing countries.
Volunteerism is her passion. Exline didn’t waste time finding ways to give back. During her college years, she worked with Community School Student Partnerships in Philadelphia and became a member of the senior staff and a site coordinator for West Philadelphia High School, where she trained and mentored 30 tutors from Penn.
“It was compelling to me. I’m interested in education,” said Exline, who also worked as a kindergarten summer school teacher for Freedom Schools of Philadelphia. “There are a lot of things that need to be done. When I get the chance to go into that, I will make a difference.”
She hopes to return to school to earn a master’s degree but isn’t bubbling over at the thoughts of earning a doctorate. “I don’t have any burning research questions I want to study for six or seven years.”
For right now, Exline is concerned with figuring out a way to do something that she’s avoided for a long time: learning how to drive.
“I didn’t need to learn in Philly; I used public transportation. Also, I didn’t really want to learn that badly,” she said. “I was hoping to get a job in an area where I didn’t have to learn how to drive. I have to learn now, being outside of Boston, because it isn’t as accessible with public transportation.”
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Senior Editor, EBONY Magazine