Shinola Leading Ladies: Audio Mechanical Engineer Dextina Booker

BY Taylor Rebhan

As a mechanical engineer in the new Shinola Audio Division, Dextina Booker has been an integral part of bringing the design of the Runwell Turntable to life. As a ’15 MIT graduate who moved here last year as a Venture for America fellow, Dextina’s smile says it all — she’s a genuine, big-hearted person with a passion for helping others. As a child, she was known for taking things apart and putting them back together again, and now this math wiz is known as the talented engineer who helps bring our audio ideas to fruition. 

Growing up primarily in Brooklyn, Dextina’s family moved to her mother’s native country of Guyana when she was six years old, where she spent three years. This sparked her passion for travel and taught her to invest in her education.

Mentors have played a big role in Dextina’s life, which is why she’s so dedicated to volunteering. Here in Detroit she volunteers once a week at Downtown Youth Boxing Gym. Although she doesn’t drive — in rain, snow, sleet or hail, Dextina bikes or finds a way to make it to the gym to tutor children of all ages in math and science. 


In her element: Dextina takes every opportunity she can to mentor or volunteer helping kids. 

While at MIT, Dextina travelled to Turkey, Israel, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland where she studied and taught STEM subjects, worked at startups and learned about people and cultures. Whether it’s building opportunities or physical products, it’s important to Dextina to be creating rather than just consuming.


Prior to coming to Shinola, she was working for Rock Ventures, overseeing their investments in startups and nonprofits in Detroit, but quickly realized she missed building tangible products. The opportunity came to do just that, but she made sure she would be able to keep a schedule that allowed her to continue to volunteer. 

“The kids remind me of home in a lot of ways and the kids I grew up with,” Dextina says. “This place is where I feel a most part of the Detroit community, and it’s one of the main constants that I’ve had while living in Detroit — the one thing that I go to without fail every week is always the Downtown Boxing Gym.”


Dextina helped bring The Runwell Turntable to life. 

Dextina fell in love with Shinola and wanted to be a part of a company that was creating jobs downtown for the people who live in the community. 

“This company works for me because of its actions, because the jobs that are created here really make sense for what’s going on in Detroit,” she says. “Detroit has been known for manufacturing. I’ve learned over the past couple of months, there are a lot of communities out there that don’t have access to the same opportunities, and that’s reflected in entrepreneurship. I needed to really focus on creating opportunity for myself, while simultaneously trying to create opportunities for others.”

Learn more about Dextina in the interview below.

How did you get into engineering in the first place? 

When I was a kid, my brother, cousin, and I were really close and grew up together. What would happen is whenever people broke their toys, they’d want to throw them away, and I would tell them, ‘No. We can make this work.’ I started taking things apart and putting them back together when I was really little.

I taught myself how to sew, because my mom bought me a little sewing machine for Christmas one year. I taught myself how to knit, how to crochet, and I liked to work with my hands until more resources were made available. 

At first when I was sewing, I would sew old clothes. Then when I started knitting, I would go to the dollar store and get yarn. It was just what was made available to me. What I was interested in met up with what was made available to me, and then that’s how it grew from there. By the time I was in college, we had classes where we were in the machine shop, and I would be in there in my summer dresses and welding. I was always interested in fixing things, and building, and tampering with things. Then more doors opened up for me to do that, because of the people that were around me. 

As a Mechanical Engineer, what’s been the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part about engineering is respecting and incorporating different view points and suggestions on products while making them beautiful and functional. Engineers tend to lean towards process, but sometimes that’s not what you need to make the magic happen. Sometimes you have to get in a room and throw paint at the walls, scribble on the white boards, and come out with something new. The engineer’s job is still about being creative, but also making things more real. I appreciate process and I’m learning to throw paint at the walls.


What has it been like being a part of the Audio team and witnessing Shinola’s first turntable production from start to finish?

It’s amazing. It’s like a startup. I see products from the time they’re an idea that someone puts out on the table, to the time they are on shelves, and hopefully in people’s homes. There is a ton of support from Shinola proper, but the audio team is a small crew making moves. I feel like I’m a uniquely skilled member of a nimble group. A force to be reckoned with, but also really technically skilled and able to dance our way out of just about anything.

What is your favorite part about Shinola?

My favorite part about Shinola is the possibilities. Things move quickly around here, so there’s a constant push to try new things, to set new goals, and to reach new heights. We try things, and if they’re good, then great. If they don’t turn out the way we hoped, we pivot. 

What is a favorite moment you can share from living in Detroit?

I watch this cartoon called Steven Universe. It’s about these really cool superheroes called the crystal gems who protect the world from being overrun by corrupted gems. One of the gems’ name is Garnet, and she’s fierce in how she protects the things and people she loves. She’s the leader of the group and is very secure in who she is, even by gem standards she is a bit peculiar. One day, one of the kids I tutor, a little boy named Steven, printed out a picture of Garnet protecting the main character and said that it reminded him of me. It meant a lot to be seen as that figure, a vision of poise and strength, and security. It meant a lot to me and it still does.


Dextina with Shinola’s Detroit Audio Team

While in Detroit, you’ve worked at both Rock Ventures and Shinola — what’s it been like working for two companies so vital to Detroit’s growth?  

I think both companies allowed me a unique perspective of the inner workings of Detroit. At Rock Ventures, I was more formally involved in the entrepreneurial side of Detroit. After working at Shinola, I started to learn a lot more about the hustling side of the city. I started meeting more people from here who’d lived here their whole lives and made Detroit what it is in spite of the fall outs Detroit’s faced. It’s been fun having a toe in both worlds and having both worlds shape the adult that I’m becoming.

What is a piece of advice you’d give to anyone reading this?

We all have a duty to do the right thing. Staying quiet is easy. Following someone else’s dream for you is easy. Letting things that have always been continue to be, whether they should be or not, is easy. But taking charge of yourself and your ability to affect change is tough. It’s just a smidge easier when you surround yourself with people willing to take on the tough stuff. 

This interview is part of a series highlighting leading women at Shinola. Find more stories, here.

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