Black women remain underrepresented in the realm of STEM. According to a 2015 study released by the National Science Foundation, African-American women only make up 2 percent of practicing scientists and engineers. 30-year-old Miami native Mareena Robinson Snowden is using her journey in academics to break barriers for women of color in the field. She just became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CNBC reported.
Snowden began charting her path at M.I.T. in 2011, the news outlet writes. However, STEM wasn’t a field that she was always interested in. She says her high school teachers and a family friend introduced her to physics and math and exposed her to possible careers in those fields. “I think my earliest memories of math and science were definitely one of like nervousness and anxiety and just kind of an overall fear of the subject. I had this idea that I wasn’t good at math and they kind of helped to peel away that mindset” she told CNBC. “They showed me that it’s more of a growth situation, that you can develop an aptitude for this and you can develop a skill.”
While pursuing her undergraduate degree, she attended M.I.T.’s summer research program and eventually applied to study nuclear engineering at the institution. Adjusting to life at M.I.T. wasn’t easy for Snowden. She had to get used to being the only woman of color in many of her classes. She says that joining on-campus groups for Black students and posting a photo of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on her wall following the release of Hidden Figures gave her motivation to push through.
After earning her nuclear engineering Ph.D. from M.I.T., Snowden did a fellowship at the National Nuclear Security Administration and landed a job at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She wants to continue to lead by example and inspire Black youth to follow in her footsteps. She wants more people of color to step into spaces where they are underrepresented and encourages them to “bring their full selves to the table.”
There’s been a major push to expose Black girls to STEM education. Black Girls CODE recently teamed up with the architectural design studio Kurnai for the creation of a technology innovation lab inside of Google’s New York office.