Insights and Perspectives

Insights and Perspectives


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Black History Month: Black Women Leading the Way in STEM

In honor of Black History Month and the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the stories of Black women who have been essential in shaping the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  

In this blog, we’ll tell the inspiring stories of four trailblazing woman and share the impact they’ve made in their respective fields.  

Jedidah IslerJedidah Isler: Dr. Isler’s dream of becoming an astrophysicist started as a young girl, when her sister gave her a telescope for her birthday. While the odds were stacked against her, with only 18 Black women in the United States ever earning a Ph.D. in a physics-related discipline, Dr. Isler never gave up and pursued her dream. According to Jedidah, the influential women in her life, including her mother and several notable astrophysicists, contributed to shaping her identity. Dr. Isler didn't have the opportunity to pursue astronomy until her doctoral program, as her undergraduate and master's programs lacked astronomy majors. When she finally had the chance to pursue astronomy as a core course of study, she describes the experience as amazing, confirming her belief that she had made the right decision in pursuing astronomy. In 2014, Dr. Isler made history by becoming the first African American woman to receiver her Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Yale University. Despite her love for astrophysics, she acknowledges the barriers faced by young women of color in science. Dr. Isler is actively involved in addressing these barriers, she collaborates with organizations like the American Astronomical Society’s Commission on the Status on Minorities in Astronomy. Today, she is an Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at Dartmouth College and a nationally recognized speaker who advocates for inclusive STEM education. Dr. Isler also passionately promotes inclusion and empowerment in STEM fields through her nonprofit organization, The SeRCH foundation.  

Gilda Barabino: Dr. Barabino excelled in math and science from an early age. She initially considered going to medical school to become a doctor but ultimately decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans. After completing her undergraduate degree, she went on to graduate school where she became the first African American student admitted to Rice University to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Dr. Barabino’s career hasn’t been without challenges. Being an underrepresented minority in the STEM field, Dr. Barabino experienced countless obstacles, such as being isolated and marginalized. Dr. Barabino says, “Persistence and confidence are extremely important. Don’t be deterred. Seek out and use mentors and advisors that are willing to help and support your career’s success.” Despite facing the challenges of being a pioneer in this solo venture, Dr. Barbino didn’t let that deter her from pursuing her dream of becoming a biomedical engineer. Today, Dr. Barabino is the second president of Olin College of Engineering. She is an internationally recognized thought leader and a sought-after speaker and consultant on race, ethnicity, and gender in science and engineering, with a focus on creating cultures and climates that support a sense of belonging. 

Evelyn Boyd Granville: Dr. Granville was raised by a single working-class mother during a time when racial segregation was prominent. Early on, she attended segregated schools and eventually graduated as valedictorian from Dunbar High School. With the support of her aunt and a scholarship, she enrolled in Smith College in Massachusetts where she planned to pursue a degree in French. However, her fascination with mathematics, physics, and astronomy led her to earn a Bachelor of Mathematics degree in 1945. Determined to challenge societal norms and pave the way for aspiring mathematicians, she continued her education, obtaining a master's degree in physics and mathematics from Yale University in 1946, becoming one of the first African American women to do so. Throughout her career, Dr. Granville made significant contributions to mathematics, particularly in numerical analysis and computing. Her mathematical insights and pioneering work in computing orbital mechanics paved the way for space exploration and NASA's early missions. Despite facing challenges as an African American woman in a male-dominated field during an era of racial segregation, Dr. Granville displayed resilience and unwavering determination. Beyond her professional achievements, she was known for her humility, grace, and commitment to social justice. Her dedication to excellence and equality served as an inspiration, demonstrating that with perseverance, one could overcome any obstacle. 

Lisha Polzine: Lisha has fearlessly confronted challenges in the tech field head-on especially being a woman of color in this industry. Her journey and unwavering determination contribute to the ongoing mission for increased diversity and inclusion in STEM. Lisha began her career as a deskside support personnel in a male-dominated field of Information Technology. For nine years, she meticulously managed tasks ranging from software installations and upgrades to troubleshooting network issues. She transitioned to a Quality Control Analyst, later advancing into a Software Quality Control Analyst role. One of her notable achievements was crafting a comprehensive document outlining internal processes and standards, pivotal in her company's journey to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, signifying adherence to international service level benchmarks. Her documentation and interviews played a crucial role in achieving ISO compliance for her company. Her next career pursuit led her to become a Software Quality Assurance Analyst, dedicating 13 years to ensuring the integrity of proprietary software, this is crucial to helping emergency first response centers operate across the United States and international clients. Lisha states that her greatest adventure was joining the Automation Testing team within those 13 years. Lisha is currently employed as a Quality Assurance Engineer at Geographical Solutions, where she supports proprietary web applications for local and state-level services, championing technological initiatives that enhance the quality of life. As a woman of color, she hopes her work and contributions have made an impact within the technology and innovations landscape. Despite having moments of doubt and at times not feeling empowered, her inner determination-built resilience, enabling her to achieve what was needed.

Because Black History Month and International Day of Women and Girls in Science are only celebrated for a short time period throughout a year, it’s important that we share these women’s stories to not only educate ourselves but to also celebrate their accomplishments and impact to STEM. They set inspiring examples for future generations and pave the way for a more inclusive future in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all.  

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