What do you do?
As an Academic Program Manager/Leadership Coach in my organization, my role is to manage two of our programs geared at postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. Further, I provide career coaching and professional development training for staff at different levels. I began my career as a Research Chemist and a Chemistry Professor. After a few years working at the bench, I transitioned into an advising role prior to assuming a program management position.
Why did you choose this field?
My story really begins with my parents. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, they both endured growing up in a highly segregated environment. They met at Alabama A&M University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), in 1972. They both had a passion for math and science and decided to both pursue bachelor’s degrees in physics. I guess you could say it was the “Law of Attraction” that brought them together! After graduating, they went on to Howard University, another HBCU, to both pursue a Masters Degree in Nuclear Engineering. After completing a series of internships across the country, they both landed positions at Westinghouse Nuclear in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.
While establishing themselves as experts in their fields, they also seized every opportunity that they had to expose my siblings and I to various opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. They were determined to get at least one of their children to follow in their footsteps. From computer camps, to science museums, to participating in “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” my siblings and I were constantly meeting STEM professionals and learning about different career paths. While I ultimately ended up being the only one of my siblings to pursue a STEM career, I credit my passion for STEM and education outreach to the efforts of both my parents.
Throughout my K-12 years, I found myself always enjoying math and science subjects. I took my first chemistry class in the tenth grade. Perhaps the most defining moment of my career came during the first nine-week check-in meeting with my teacher, Mr. Frank Stackiewicz. He pulled me to the side and showed me a series of grades. He pointed out that the final “A” on the list represented my grade. He then told me that while I had technically earned a high “B”, he had awarded me an “A” because he knew I had the capability to do so. That was the moment and a spark was ignited and my passion for chemistry was born. Something about that statement gave me the confidence to embrace the subject with vigor. I went on to earn A’s throughout the remainder of the school year. He invited me back during my junior and senior years to work as a lab assistant/tutor. And with that, my desire to become a chemist and an educator had been manifested.Upon successfully defending my thesis in 2010, I immediately began my career as an adjunct professor at Chicago State University. During that same period, I decided to apply to the National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Research Associate Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). I was accepted and came to NIST in 2011 and started in the program. I began my tenure working on several forensics related projects, one of which included exploring how cosmetic treatments such as chemical relaxers affected drug hair testing. After converting to a term research chemist appointment in 2013 (and subsequently a permanent appointment in 2014), I transitioned into focusing on cutting-edge research involving developing reference materials and robust, analytical methods for clinical biomarkers, vitamins, nutritional constituents and environmentally relevant substances.
Outside of my work at NIST, I began working as an adjunct lecturer at Montgomery College teaching general chemistry 2012. I teach by the philosophy, “Each one, teach one!” and strive to make my classroom a positive learning experience for students who often fear chemistry. I have spent countless hours doing STEM education outreach and demos at local schools and churches as well as abroad in South Africa. As the recipient of an Embassy Science Fellowship, in 2015 I had the unique opportunity to work at SciFest Africa, South Africa’s largest science festival, for three months to develop hands-on content for the program as well as training resources for educators.
Shortly after returning from South Africa, I was offered a one-year detail position working as a scientific adviser in NIST’s Material Measurement Laboratory (MML). I worked closely with the MML leadership team to drive and maintain the laboratory’s strategic focus. Furthermore, I promoted organization excellence by providing career development training for NIST staff. I also worked with educational institutions of all levels to implement measurement science training, exposure to STEM subject areas, and to develop relationships with NIST staff.
After completing my rotation, I then transitioned to my current role as an academic program manager in NIST’s International and Academic Affairs Office (IAAO). My duties include providing management and oversight for the NIST NRC Postdoctoral Research Associateship Program (talk about things coming around full circle!) and the Graduate Student Measurement Science and Engineering (GMSE) Fellowship Program as well as consulting, collaborating and building partnerships with NIST staff, customers and stakeholders on academic programs. I also am heavily involved in recruitment and STEM education efforts both internal and external to NIST. After completing an Executive Certificate in Leadership Coaching Program at Georgetown University in 2019, I now provide professional development opportunities for participants in our academic programs.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
When I was younger, I never imagined the places that having a STEM degree could take me. I have been able to travel across the US and internationally to teach STEM subjects to K-12 students.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working with STEM because it is the foundation for everything. I enjoy teaching science and other STEM subjects. I often hear many people say that they fear science. I love seeing their faces light up as they master a concept that they had previously deemed difficult.
Best advice for next generation?
The best advice that I could the next generation of girls in STEM is that they should know that they belong and demand a seat at the table. Actively seek out mentors and other people to add to your sphere of influence to remain encouraged along the way.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women that have her back.