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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Shocking the world one song at a time: Alum uses music and engineering to inspire students of color

Silent spectators roar with applause. Posters advertising upcoming shows in Chicago, Kansas City and San Antonio decorate the basement walls of Roy Moye III’s childhood home as he steps up to his imaginary microphone. To an audience of none, the teenager sings from a selection of his 40 composed songs for an absent, adoring assembly of music fanatics.

Now, more than a decade later, the Wichita State aerospace engineering graduate and Grammy-nominated performer sings to a real audience, often composed of children, as he inspires and motivates the next generation of Black and brown STEM students through interactive concerts.

The rise of a star

Moye initially didn’t want to become a professional vocalist; instead, he was drawn to airplanes. Born the son of a military family stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Moye took his first flight when he was only three weeks old. 

“Just being in proximity to aviation and stuff in the army … that’s where I think my love of airplanes started,” Moye said. “Every kid likes airplanes, but I became obsessed.”

After moving to the States, Moye became invested in aerospace engineering as a career.

While simultaneously submerging himself in all there was to know about aircrafts, aerodynamics and propulsion, Moye taught himself songs, scales and rhythm. 

Moye said he was 5 or 6 years old when he developed his love for singing. While he credits God for the talent, he also said his reputation as a teary-eyed toddler may have played a role in his musical development.

“I cried a lot as a kid, and (I) think that’s what strengthened the ribs (and my diaphragm),” Moye said.

Once he started middle school, Moye’s passion for song was paused as he focused on aerospace engineering. During this time, bullies began to torment Moye for his heritage and sexuality. While Moye wouldn’t know it until nearly 20 years later, he was gay.

It wasn’t until a school talent show that Moye discovered that his singing voice could also be used as a shield against stigma and insults.

“The bullies and stuff were kind of like, ‘Oh, you kind of have a dope voice,’” Moye said. “And so then I was like, ‘I know what I’m doing; I’m going to be singing from now on.’”

When he was 15, Moye considered singing professionally. He applied for American Idol, but doubt and devastation followed after he didn’t receive a callback.

“Nothing came of it, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, everybody is lying to me, I actually can’t sing,’” Moye said.

Instead, he “nurtured” his singing skill by joining a choir as a hobby but abandoned his pursuit of a singing career. Moye said he became even more set on becoming an engineer due to his self-perceived failure in the music industry.

‘This is where you’re supposed to be’: Attending WSU

Once Moye graduated high school, he sought out the best colleges for aerospace engineering in the states. He spent hours on Yahoo, Google and Ask Jeeves, examining every program, university and class course he could find. That’s where he found Wichita State — at the bottom of the list of aerospace engineering universities on Wikipedia.

For Moye, Wichita State seemed to align with everything he needed from a university — it was only a few hours away from home, meaning that he could tour beforehand, and, most importantly, he could afford to attend. 

At the time, Wichita State’s aerospace engineering was one of the only 10 programs offered through the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Moye took that as a sign that Wichita State was one of his best — and only — options.

When he arrived on campus for his tour, Moye was pleasantly surprised to learn that his tour guide was studying aerospace engineering. The guide gave him a choice — check out the residence halls or get a sneak peek of the wind tunnels. He excitedly picked the latter.

“I remember feeling this peace and calm when I was here (touring on campus), and I was kind of mad about it because I wanted to go to Ohio State,” Moye said. “It was almost just, like, ‘This is where you’re supposed to be.’”

Roy’s angels

During his first year on campus, Moye adjusted well to university life despite being a first-generation student of color. He maintained great grades and enjoyed his classes, despite the “very challenging” nature of the aerospace engineering program.

But it wasn’t long before the conclusion of his freshman year that Moye had to come to terms with a devastating truth: he couldn’t afford school anymore. 

Desperate and in search of help, Moye found himself in Alicia Newell’s office. At the time, Newell was the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ director.

“(I remember) he came in (and) was extremely distraught,” Newell said. “When you see students who are taking advantage of every opportunity presented, it makes you, as a professional, really want to go above and beyond to try to help meet their needs.”

She sat down with a “hyperventilating” Moye and began “mothering” — helping him to calm down while exploring the next possible steps. Newell, along with Sheelu Surender and Natalie Toney, whom Moye lovingly refers to as “Roy’s Angels,” were able to find $7,000 in scholarships within an hour, $5,000 of which would be renewable until he graduated.

“That made all the difference,” Moye said. “It was a blessing.”

Now, Moye’s graduation photo sits framed on Newell’s new office wall as one of her success stories.

Roy Moye III sings a song about engineering while performing a STEM-based show for students of Linwood Elementary. Moye led students through songs, activities and experiments to inspire them to pursue STEM-oriented careers.

‘A big difference’: Mentorship and music

In 2015, Moye completed his degree in aerospace engineering, an accomplishment he credits to God and WSU’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

Moye said Wichita State also provided mentors and role models he needed to feel seen, recognized and appreciated in a predominately white field. Kaye Monk-Morgan, the Upward Bound Math and Science director at the time, and her husband Derek Morgan were “second parents” to Moye who took it upon themselves to guide and mentor him, something he saw as invaluable coming from people who looked like him.

He also developed relationships with James Steck, a professor in the College of Engineering, and mentors at Spirit AeroSystems.

The Morgans, Steck and Moye’s mentors at Spirit encouraged his music career alongside his engineering passions and constantly reassured him that it was possible to pursue both. Toward the end of his college career, Moye began working on his singing again. He was writing and recording his songs by night, completely unbeknownst to his classmates and professors, while studying engineering by day.

“The engineering world had no idea I sang. The music world thought I was a music major. It was just this double life,” Moye said. 

After undergoing rigorous auditions and having to “fight for it,” he got to sing the national anthem at his WSU graduation in 2015 for a sold-out crowd of 10,000 people.

“People cheer after a national anthem, just cause out of respect … but this place was erupting; it was crazy,” Moye said. “I just remember standing there with the microphone after it was over like, ‘You can sing.’

“That kind of created this (feeling of), ‘Oh my God, what if I want to sing?’”

Post graduation: Pandemics and performances

After graduating, Moye accepted a full-time position at Spirit as a structural design engineer, designing small structural parts for planes. 

At the same time, he was writing, recording and publishing music. He released his first EP on his birthday in 2015. Not long after, he performed his EP debut show in Old Town and realized that he wanted to pursue music professionally.

“People … bought CDs that I had made; they came to the show, and it was so incredible,” Moye said. “I was like, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I actually don’t want to be this engineer; I want to go sing.’”

The realization came with deep sorrow, though, as Moye realized he would have to sacrifice one dream for another.

“I cried myself to sleep that night because … it’s almost like when you find out what you were born to do, and it’s really hard to then be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna go do something else,’” Moye said. “I still love the airplanes and all of that, but I just wanted to sing professionally full-time.”

Student loans held Moye back. He opted to pick up a music career on the side, singing and writing R&B and gospel music as his “focus” until 2020.

“I said (to myself) ‘I want you to still pursue that dream. I don’t want you to just let it go,’” Moye said. 

‘You have to do something with this’: Creating STEMusic

But Moye also found a new purpose in his work at Spirit: guiding and supporting batches of interns every summer while focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring new employees.

The role inspired him to pursue other opportunities to provide mentorship. While at Wichita State, Moye joined a group now called Heros Academy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing mentorship and new experiences to local kids from third to eighth grade. One day, Heroes Academy coordinators asked Moye to teach a math lesson to the kids.

“And I said, ‘Oh, Lord’, I have a math minor, and me and math still ain’t friends like that; we’re acquaintances,’” Moye said.

But, he took on the challenge. Channeling from his own experiences in college of altering popular songs to learn concepts and vocabulary for courses, he remixed the song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” to “Watch Me Solve This Equation.” 

“I wrote a whole song … I put the equation in the song … and then I was like, ‘I’m just gonna perform this to start the session off and see what happens,’” Moye said. “And they were going so wild … They were just like, running up to the board. They didn’t care if they were getting it right or wrong … And I just remember thinking, ‘Something happened. I don’t know what it was, but something happened that night and you have to do something with this.’”

And so, STEMusic was born at the end of 2019. Moye created the music-based business to inspire and motivate the next generation of Black and brown kids to pursue STEM careers or other professions that may have previously seemed unattainable. 

But first, he needed to put pencil to paper and write original songs for the new initiative. With the success of his business depending on his music, Moye was hesitant at first.

“Finally, a good friend of mine was like, ‘You know what, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it,’” Moye said. “And her saying that kind of just made me feel like, ‘No, but I want to do it.’ So I just said (to myself), ‘Write one song. Just write one song. See how you feel.’”

That one song, “STEMusic Song,” became the theme song for the business.

“And I loved it. This is exactly what I thought it would sound like in my head,” Moye said. “It was everything I needed to be like, ‘You need to do something with this.’”

Moye made STEMusic official on November 1, 2019. Not long after, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down, limiting Moye’s opportunities but not his drive.

During the pandemic, he was invited to perform in a virtual show for Wichita’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. He performed all of his songs from his first big project in front of a green screen and the resulting music video for “STEMusic Song’’ gained 46 million views on YouTube.

“That was the first thing that started everything,” Moye said. “A song that you said ‘Just take a chance, write it and see how you feel,’ and it has 46 million views.”

Moye confidently transitioned to children’s music, a decision he never anticipated.

Since STEMusic’s founding, Moye has had the opportunity to perform at conferences, libraries, children’s museums and more, especially as he embarks on his first STEMusic in Kansas tour.

He’s also built strong local connections with Wichita educators. Earlier this month, Moye hosted a show at Linwood Elementary for the summer school students and, by the end, they were pleading for the show to go on.

“STEM … is really a complicated subject that he makes super simple through his music,” Esther Runck, the program education director of Arts Partners and the coordinator for Moye’s show at Lindwood, said. “He makes the complicated simple, and he makes it available to all.”

Roy Moye III sings a song about the power of science to students of Linwood Elementary. Moye, the founder of STEMusic, travels to schools and libraries across the state to teach kids, especially children of color, about STEM. (Allison Campbell)

Moye said his words of inspiration aren’t just for kids in STEM, but anyone with dreams.

“Even if it’s outside of STEM, whatever your dreams are, they’re valid and they can happen if you work hard,” Moye said. “You can do it, whatever it is.”

Moye’s music career now

Early in his newfound singing career, Moye spent a lot of time “cold emailing” places, asking to sing for them at ceremonies and perform renditions of the national anthem. Moye has since sung national anthems for the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and for a USA men’s soccer team game hosted in Kansas City. 

Moye, who credits God for his invaluable support in achieving his dreams and discovering new opportunities, said God stepped in again when, in 2021, he and a music collective were nominated for a kid’s music Grammy.

Connections he had made with a group called 123 Andres led to the formation of One Tribe Collective, a Black music family of children’s artists. Not long after, Moye wrote and recorded “Black Lives Made STEM History” from his dining room table for the collective and published the track on Juneteenth of 2021, the first year the holiday was federally recognized

In August of 2021, the producers said they were going to submit the album containing the song for the following year’s Grammys. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2021, he got a call while at his desk at Spirit watching the award show.

“I’m … at my desk, watching the Grammy nominations come out, live,” Moye said. “And (when I was nominated) I just got up; I ran out; I was crying in this closet.”

The year prior, no people of color were nominated for children’s music awards, and of all the submissions in the category, Moye said there was only one woman. Moye said the difference between the two years was revolutionary, and he was honored to be a part of that change.

“We just transformed that category,” Moye said. “It was such an amazing moment.”

What’s next for Moye and STEMusic

In the coming months, Moye plans on leaving Spirit to pursue STEMusic full-time, a decision that he says is equal parts scary and exciting.

Along with his STEMusic in Kansas tour, Moye plans to put out a new project called “STEM Music Takes Flight.”

“It’s a love letter to aviation and aerospace and, you know, how I even got into STEM,” Moye said.

Moye said he’s reaching out to former professors to contribute and consult with on the outline of the song.

“I cannot wait to dive into that project and submit it for the Grammys maybe in the fall,” Moye said. “(I can’t wait to) make a really cool album that will inspire the next generation of aviation people, kids in STEM and this town.”

In addition, he wants to partner with companies like Spirit to extend his reach and explore other genres of music. He’s currently brainstorming ideas for an R&B track inspired by a breakup last year, and he wants to write a musical based on the Dockum Drug Store sit-in.

Even with his plans, ambitions and goals, Moye said that STEMusic will always come first. Referencing the WSU phrase “thinker, doer, mover and Shocker,” Moye said he’s ready to stop thinking and start shocking the world with his talent. 

“I really feel like I lived by that here on campus, but then just in life, like, I just took it and continue to do that,” Moye said. “You can’t just stay in the thinking process. You have to be a doer. The Shocker part — I really take to heart. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or if you’re not in some major city.

“You can shock the world.”

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About the Contributor
Allison Campbell
Allison Campbell, Editor-in-Chief
Allison Campbell is the editor in chief of The Sunflower. Campbell is a senior pursuing a journalism and media production degree with a minor in English. She served as one of the news editors during the 2023-2024 year. Campbell hopes to pursue a career in writing or editing after graduation. They use any pronouns.

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  • A

    Alicia Martinez NewellJul 1, 2024 at 4:51 pm

    An amazing testimony of what PERSERVERANCE looks like at Wichita State! All too often, we give up before even getting started. I’m so happy that Roy kept going & is continuing to live his passion out loud!

    Reply
    • R

      Roy Moye IIIJul 2, 2024 at 8:07 am

      I’m so grateful for your support back then and now! You made a huge difference in my journey! Thank you!

      Reply