Black women are charting historic paths in spaces where they are significantly underrepresented. Amongst this generation of trailblazers is Aliyah Griffith, who recently became the first Black student to earn a graduate degree in marine sciences from the University of North Carolina, the Daily Tar Heel reported.
Although diversity is a crucial component of innovation and progress within STEM, the industry is plagued by racial and gender disparities. Studies show 2.5 percent of marine biologists are Black. Griffith is using her journey to show people of color that there’s room for them in the space.
The scholar developed an interest in aquatics as a youngster following a trip to Sea World at the age of five. Throughout her childhood, she visited marine parks and aquariums. After connecting with a dolphin trainer at the Baltimore Aquarium, she decided she wanted to pursue a career in marine biology.
Staying true to her passion, Griffith went on to study marine sciences at Hampton University. After earning her undergraduate degree, she advanced her education at UNC, becoming the first Black student to be accepted into the school’s marine sciences program, which has been in existence for 50 years.
Beyond the classroom, Griffith has been dedicated to increasing representation within environmental science. In 2016, she merged philanthropy and STEM education to create a nonprofit dubbed MahoganyMermaids centered on introducing Black youth to aquatic sciences. She is also a part of UNC’s Black Graduate and Professional Student Association and Initiative for Minority Excellence.
For Griffith, her presence in the industry is about ensuring individuals who look like her see themselves reflected in marine biology. She is currently working on exploring coral conservation in Barbados, her family’s native country. “Our research and our expertise deserves to be heard,” she shared in a statement. “Being able to give back to the community in the island that my ancestors are from and be a part of keeping history, as well as helping the future of the island, is something that you feel like you can’t really know unless it’s that close to home.”
With her historic milestone, Griffith joins a collective of brilliant Black women who have broken barriers in academia. Last year, the University of Texas at Arlington graduate Lindsay Davis became the first Black student in the school’s 126-year history to earn a doctorate in chemistry.