One study released by the National Science Foundation showed that African-American women only make up 2 percent of practicing scientists and engineers. It’s in this context that it’s easy to understand why so many black women and women of color, in general, have such a hard time breaking into STEM fields. However, it also gives cause for celebration when someone does manage to make things happen.30-year-old Miami native Mareena Robinson Snowden did just that, with Newsone reporting that she is the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Interestingly enough, despite her obvious skills and acumen, Snowden wasn’t always bound to the STEM path. She mentions it was a combination of high-school teachers and a family friend who exposed her initially to the possibilities 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.” We’ve covered in the past the lack of mentorship opportunities for minorities in general, but especially for black women.
During her undergraduate stint at M.I.T., Snowden attended M.I.T.’s summer research program and eventually applied to study nuclear engineering at the institution. She had to adjust to being the only woman of color in the bulk of her classes, though. By joining on-campus groups for black students and taking inspiration from NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson after the release of Hidden Figures, she was able to steel through to graduation.
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, an impressive post-graduation step for an impressive individual. In addition, Snowden understands the value of having someone to follow and wants to encourage more black students to follow her lead. 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.”