I’ve made a few decisions in my career that have been controversial in my circle of academical aware people. After all, years ago, I made the conscious choice to be a scientist, knowing being a woman in science would be hard. I also knew being black would add to the mix, and its been very interesting.
I know the first job I got after receiving my bachelor’s degree was because I was killing two birds with one stone, I was.. black and female. I could almost see the glee in the face of the man that would eventually become my boss when I came in the office for the interview. After months of looks of shock that I wasn’t male (my name tended to confuse them, they always assumed Chevin was just Kevin spelled wrong), it was actually amusing to watch him go through the motions. It was an entry level position; I was going to be trained anyway, so me being “qualified” was completely irrelevant to him.
For years, I was the only woman on the team wherever I went. If I was lucky, I would be the second little bit of “pepper” in the container of “salt”. It was assumed I would make coffee every morning. I always politely explained I don’t make what I don’t drink. My ability always shone through in the end. I was and continue to be, a professional. Its been so hard though.
It has been very important to me as I came to education to be a role model for girls and for minorities in the classroom. I love science and technology and I try to show my love for it in all I do in the classroom. In the 10 years I’ve taught, I’ve had students come back to me their senior year in high school to thank me for being that role model. I’ve had girls who hated science, tell me they now want to be scientists. I’ve had boys gain a respect for women as scientists and engineers because I’ve shown them that girls have brains that work. These same boys have reconsidered what they want to be because of what they know girls can be.
For all of my students for the past few years, knowing who my personal science hero is has been a running joke.
I’m leaving my husband and marrying Neil Degrasse Tyson everyone… I’m just letting you know.
Laughter always results when I say that.. usually while I look at my picture of him I keep posted on the bulletin board behind my desk. The girls threaten to tell my husband (he knows) and the boys want to know what’s so great about him. So I tell them; women like men with big.. brains. Go work your brain muscle. It always makes them stop and think.
I just read an article about Neil and how he recognized how what he wanted to do with his life was something that wasn’t expected of him. We are contemporaries, so I totally understand his “pain”. We aren’t supposed to like science, be good at science, or teach science. We’re always the “black” scientist, or the “black” consultant. We’re always questioned about our credentials (I remember being questioned once on a job site and discovered my supervisor had LIED about them; she lost the contract and tried to fire me for telling the truth) I was always the only woman at the table during meetings. He was harassed the police while at the University of Texas. I was one of two women (and the only black) in an environmental engineering class, and the professor told us, in the presence of the men in the room, that we’d never pass the class because we were women, and women never passed his class. (hell yeah we passed) Even now, in education, as I network in educational technology, I have to search the sea of faces at events for something different.
Its been hell, but its been worth it.
As I consider where I want to go from here in my career, I know I can’t disappear from the view of the little girls and children of color who need to know that they can be the anomaly and the world won’t come crashing down around them. I’m not sure how I will do this yet, but I know I have to do it. I’m no “Neil Degrasse Tyson”; I can’t imagine having my own show, but I can be a positive force for children interested in STEM careers. I will be a positive force for children interested in STEM careers. I will BRING the pain…