We met ten years ago at Morgan State University (MSU), an HBCU and Maryland’s preeminent public urban research university. One of us was a biology major from California and one a physics major from Trinidad & Tobago. During our time at MSU, we were participants in a National Institutes of Health program, Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U*STAR). Morgan State’s MARC U*STAR program aimed to increase the number of underrepresented students earning baccalaureate and doctoral degrees in research fields and, ultimately, to contribute to the diversification of the nation’s scientific workforce.
We are both Black women, and to an extent, this shared identity in science bridged our different cultural backgrounds. Black women hold just 3.5 percent of science and engineering doctorates and comprise only 2.48 percent of Black women of science and engineering jobs in the United States. Our perspectives shifted even more when we left the very culturally diverse MSU, one of us to pursue doctoral study at the University of Miami and one of us to take on a research fellowship at Harvard University. At each Predominantly White Institution (PWI), we had to intentionally seek representative faculty members and communities that had been second-nature during our undergraduate studies. Teressa being born and raised in the Caribbean added an additional layer to her experience. The support network we shared through our undergraduate research program and our experiences across an array of educational institutions were the catalysts to founding STEMNoire in 2019.
We conceptualized STEMNoire as a first-of-its-kind research conference and holistic wellness retreat for women of the African diaspora in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). After the telephone conversation that inspired the formation of STEMNoire, we very quickly got to work expanding the team of volunteers who would bring the concept to life. In its final form, the 2020–2022 STEMNoire Conference Planning Council is a phenomenal team of Black women scientists, engineers, advocates, and educators, and these leaders include: Dr. Daphney Chery, Dr. Elissia Franklin, Olivia Geneus, Dr. Korie Grayson, Dr. Malika Grayson, Kelly Knight, Dr. Racheida Lewis, and Dr. Shenell Tolson.
In 2020 we planned to hold our inaugural STEMNoire conference, inviting Black women from throughout the diaspora. Our goal was to provide resources and a supportive community to contribute to diverse talent retention and success in STEM. But COVID-19 had other plans. We were forced to reschedule our inaugural conference and to pivot instead to a virtual programming series, which included Black Women in STEM Week and Wellness Wednesdays in partnership with the ResearchHer.
In 2021, after taking some time to reimagine what the event would look like in the digital realm, we finally launched our inaugural STEMNoire conference, with the support of George Mason University, Amazon Web Services, Aids Healthcare Foundation, and Cambridge Mobile Telematics. It is well documented that Black women are underrepresented in STEM, so we curated the conference to “shift the narrative” and to provide temporary relief from the negative pressures of being “othered.” Over five hundred attendees (including speakers, sponsors, and exhibit partners), forty research presenters, and sixty-five scholarship recipients gathered for STEMNoire 2021. We celebrated the contributions of Black women to the past, present, and future of STEM. Keynote speakers included: Dr. Monica Cox, Distinguished Professor of Engineering at The Ohio State University; Dr. Mariel Buqué, holistic psychologist and intergenerational trauma expert; Danni Washington, TV host and Science Communicator; and Dr. Ijeoma Opara, Assistant Professor in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health.
We are excited to announce that our work continues. STEMNoire 2022, presented in partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks, will be held from June 23–25, 2022, again in a virtual format. Sponsorship from Ginkgo Bioworks and Amazon Web Services will allow the completely volunteer-run team to focus on scale and to bring even more women into the STEMNoire community, as we plan for an eventual transition to in-person programming.
Registration is now open for STEMNoire 2022! AWIS has partnered with STEMNoire to sponsor ten scholarships for students to attend. Additionally, AWIS members get 30% off registration (check your email for the promo code).
Dr. Kilan Ashad-Bishop is a T32 Cancer Disparities and Equity Postdoctoral Fellow in the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami, FL. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Morgan State University and her PhD in cancer biology from the University of Miami. A champion for equity in science and society, she co-founded STEMNoire, a first-of-its-kind, research and wellness organization for Black Women in STEM in 2019.
Teressa M. Alexander is a STEM communicator working to finish her PhD in plant science. She graduated from Morgan State University with a bachelor’s degree in physics and is doing her doctoral work at The University of the West Indies–Trinidad, where she continues to pursue her passion for biomechanics through plant models. Alexander is the producer and director of STEM Caribbean Media, a digital directory of Caribbean STEM professionals and educators, and she co-founded STEMNoire.
This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.