About a month ago I participated in a twitter chat #AAWiSTEM about empowering African-American Women in STEM with The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). After this conversation it made me think about last summer when I read the American Association of University Women (AAUW) “Why so Few?“. If you have not read it please check it out.
As an African-American woman in STEM sometimes I feel like I am a member of a small group. When I feel like this I remember that there are so many resources and other women in STEM out there like me. If you cannot find them look in your community, schools, at work and I know that you will find someone who can lend a helping hand. You may even find a mentor. In regards to the question, “Why so Few?”, I believe we cannot answer this question until things change. If we want to make a change we have to get out there, be a mentor to young girls and continue to spread STEM awareness.
In honor of Black History Month and Women’s History Month (which is in March) I decided to share my reflections as an African-American Woman in STEM. In my previous post, I talked about Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb who is an African-American research scientist (Cell Biologist/ Cell Physiologist) that made a great contribution to cancer research. At the time she entered graduate school there were few African-American women in STEM. Today we are still battling with why there are few African-American women in STEM. How can we increase these numbers? How can we increase the amount of African-American women in STEM that pursue higher education?
When I think about this, it makes flashback to my first role model for STEM. My first role model was my aunt, that is an electrical engineer. Before her I never heard of engineering. As I listened to her talk about engineering, science and research it made my dream real. I know that having a role model/mentor played a big part in my science career. Role models and mentors are very important for everyone, especially in the STEM field. If you feel lost, need help with your math homework or want to talk to someone about a STEM career a mentor is there for you. Sometimes a little mentoring is all you need for that push to turn your dream into a reality.
Also, mentors can help you if you want to learn more about different STEM fields. If you know a girl who is curious about science be her mentor. Tell her that scientists are creators, innovators, and leaders. The road is not easy, but it is worth it. For example, when I entered high school I didn’t know anyone else that wanted to become a scientist or engineer. I felt so alone, but I moved on. I told myself that if I am going to enter college I will make sure I learn everything I can to become a research scientist. During my senior year of high school I even had to talk to the principal so that I can take an additional calculus course that was not offered at my school so I could apply to college.
Shortly after I graduated high school I participated in a program for Minorities in STEM and another program for Women in STEM. By participating in these programs I was able to meet others women that had similar career goals and build friendships. These programs also gave me the chance to learn about leadership and come out of my shell.
Fast forward to the end of undergraduate and the beginning of graduate school. This is the point that I realized that I was really the only one in my science courses. I was the only African-American, or the only female. In some of my senior level undergraduate courses and graduate courses I was even the youngest student in the course. I remember hearing negative whispers from students saying I did not belong. I even had people tell me that I should pursue a non-STEM career. I ignored it and their negativity pushed me harder to move forward.
As a woman in STEM you may have experienced similar stories. I want to share my reflections as a way to inspire, motivate and encourage more women to pursue STEM fields. If you know a girl who likes science share your story with her.
The more we share and reflect the more empowering we can be. As Black History Month comes to a close and Women’s History Month begins, I hope that as Women in STEM we take the opportunity to highlight Women in STEM. Write a blog post, tweet it or share with your peers. When we share our stories, knowledge and resources we are one step closer to increasing the number of Mademoiselle Scientists!
Take advantage of resources and opportunities out there for all women in STEM! Check out Black Girls Code and Association of Women in Science (AWIS). What are some organizations that empower Women in STEM?
Thank you for reading a small portion of my story as an African-American woman in STEM. What is your story?