in , ,

Sierra Leone’s Amie Fornah Sankoh is the First Deaf Black Woman to Earn a STEM Doctorate in the US

ALSO READ:  For Criticising France’s ‘Continued Colonialism, African Union Fires Diplomat, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao
ALSO READ:  Taiwo Balogun: Nigerian Woman Found Dead In UK After Going Missing For 4 Weeks


Amie Fornah Sankoh had been suffering in primary school in her native Sierra Leone due to a hearing handicap before relocating to the United States and achieving an excellent academic milestone. Her academic problems were not her only hurdles at the time, as she also faced the West African country’s devastating civil conflict, according to Chemistry World.

Sankoh, who lost her hearing when she was just three years old, did not let her condition interfere with her education. She received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Tennessee (UT) Knoxville on May 20.

This academic achievement makes her the first deaf Black woman in the United States, and maybe the world, to acquire a PhD in any scientific, technological, engineering, or math area. Sankoh revealed that her father brought her to the United States for medical treatment for her deafness, but doctors were unable to find a cure.

“My father sent me to live with his best friend in America, who adopted me,” she said. “Doctors in the US could not cure my deafness, but I was able to join the deaf community where I learned American Sign Language [ASL] over the next few years.”

Sankoh’s scholastic challenges persisted as a middle school student in the United States, owing to the language barrier and difficulties keeping up with her classes. The latter was owing to her inability to comprehend comments made by her teachers or classmates. Despite these difficulties, Sankoh maintained a strong interest in mathematics.

“Mathematics is just very visual, and I was able to enjoy that,” she told Chemistry World. “Anytime a person talked, I didn’t understand anything, but when they would write out the formulas I could see it and I could see each step of how to solve that problem.”

Sankoh eventually became more academically confident in high school as she learned ASL and was assigned an interpreter. “In high school, I really fell in love with the more complex mathematics, which is why I got into chemistry,” she recalled. “I was able to learn about and see chemical reactions – how the reactions occur – and then make predictions,” she added. “It was very exciting – with the reaction, you’d have to write it down and draw it out.”

She eventually decided to complete her education at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she received an associate degree in laboratory sciences. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the same university.

Sankoh said she chose to pursue a Ph.D. while she was working in a laboratory after graduating from college. “I was participating in research and enjoying it, and learning and experiencing the beauty of it, and then started to discover my own potential,” she said. “And that led me to go ahead and enter the Ph.D. program at UT Knoxville.”

Her Ph.D. research looked into the effects of hormones on plant-pathogen interactions, per Chemistry World. “I can’t tell you how many times I had self-doubt and thought I’m not able, I’m not going to pass,” she said. “The journey was very challenging, but with the right mentor, I was able to overcome – I was able to focus on the science rather than just advocating for my inclusion and accessibility.”

She has also currently authored four scientific publications. “I feel very, very proud for persisting,” Sankoh stated; despite saying she wished she wasn’t the only deaf student in her class and labs during her Ph.D. program.

“But I’m very happy that I am able to inspire the next generation of deaf scientists, so they can see their potential.”

South Carolina Mom Celebrates All Her 4 Kids Graduating in the Same Month

John W. Rogers Jr.: The Man Behind the Oldest Black-Owned Investment Firm in the U.S.