As a college junior, Evolone Layne has spent every summer since getting accepted to Howard University, a prestigious HBCU in Washington, DC, interning at companies including Apple and NASA because of her passion for STEM.
She holds an interest in artificial intelligence after a trip to urgent care for a mystery bruise that was treated with Advil. Wouldn’t it be better, she thought, if health care practitioners could go to a computer that’s programmed to know what’s going on with our bodies?
In addition to her commitment to science, Layne has a deep love of music, having once dreamt of being a vocal coach. During her childhood she studied music at an academic level, attending Mark Twain Intermediate School for the Gifted and Talented in Brooklyn and the famed LaGuardia High School in New York City.
While she got excellent grades in these programs, she turned to STEM in college as a way to have a profitable career and use the creative skills she’d learned in school. “One thing I researched and realized is true is that when you’re in music, you’re very mathematically inclined and it’s natural. When you’re looking at sheet music, math comes into it all the time even if you don’t notice it.”
Since we named her one of Glamour’s 2022 College Women of the Year, we spoke with Layne about music, social media, and her drive to use artificial intelligence to help her community.
Glamour: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about HBCUs?
Evolone Layne: There’s this stigma that people hear HBCU and they think it’s easy. That going to an HBCU means things are handed to you or it means that you don’t know as much. When I first came here and was surrounded by only people of color, I didn’t think about what was going on outside until I started at NASA. I was like, Why are they acting like I don't know anything? I also wish people knew that HBCUs aren’t just Howard and Spelman; there are so many more.
What’s a project or initiative you’ve worked on at school that you’re most proud of?
Before I was president [of the Google Student Developers Club at Howard], I was a core team member, so I was a part of a select group that worked on special projects. A project came in one day from Delaware congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, and she was asking for an app to raise voting awareness in Black communities. Nobody’s ever really asked us, at least that high up, to do a project like that. I was a freshman at the time, and nobody around me knew Swift, a coding language, so immediately they put me as the head of the group for iOS development. It was the first time I had to take on leadership like that. It puts a lot into perspective. I was able to cater to people using an application, get voter awareness up, and even get club spirits up, since a lot of people were so passionate.
How do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media?
I offload apps from my phone to concentrate sometimes, and when I finally finish, I load them back on. I’m not completely deleting it; it’s still on my homepage. But I know that I’m going to have to go through the process of waiting for it to download to get on it. Now Instagram is my main app. I love Instagram, so I put a timer on when I go on instead.
I went through a time last year when I decided to unfollow a lot of celebrities because there was too much on my feed to the point that I was like, “Wow, I don’t look like this,” or, “I don’t have what they have.” My feed is now more people I know at Howard, and it just feels better. I was seeing impossible goals, and that definitely gets into people’s heads at a young age.
Do you feel any pressure to keep up?
There is pressure—I noticed the way I post now definitely changed. I now put more thought into my photos. My friends have Canon cameras; we only use them for certain things. I still use my iPhone to take pictures, but when it is time to take professional photos for times like LinkedIn or my birthday, I’d ask my friends to take my photos with a Canon. I realized that was happening, but I don’t think it put so much pressure on me to the point that I’m panicking about it. Being around all these people that take their pictures very seriously made me start taking mine more seriously. It’s helped me because now I like the image that I see of myself, and it’s much better than how I saw myself before I came to Howard.
Using TikTok and Instagram filters, how do you plan to increase representation of melanated skin?
It has a lot to do with creators. Coming out of the HBCU world and going into a PWI world—a lot of the people that made these things that people love today and use are white. They don’t think about anything else besides making it for the majority of the people. If more Black people came into the field, it would definitely be geared toward Black people, which is why I’m so happy seeing it’s at my HBCU. My major has so many people that plan on doing a lot in computer science. When it comes to filters, they usually show you the creator on Instagram or who started it, and most of the time they’re white.
How did you shift from pursuing vocals at LaGuardia High School in New York City to AI at Howard?
The reason I went to LaGuardia was the school had a lot of AP classes as well. It gave me more opportunities than many of my zone schools. I wanted an advanced education, but I wanted music in my life. Realistically what I wanted to do was be a vocal teacher. And back then my parents would kind of just be like, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” So I knew what that meant: “Do you think you’ll make enough money?” Here is what my parents kind of tried to hint at me, and I was like, you know, I do understand where they’re coming from. So I simply found something else that I was equally passionate about.
And then I realized, I love music enough, but I love pursuing computer science even more than I love music, and I still can do it on the side. I’m actually going to bring my keyboard up to my campus here soon so I can still work on music and just sort things out.