Caribbean Women in STEMFebruary 27th, 2022
Women are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This is even more true for women who are part of ethnic minority groups. But if representation is important to achieving equality for all, then girls must see others like them doing things they might never have imagined. It’s why Toshaunae Norris, a 19-year-old correspondent from Jamaica, highlights three Caribbean women who are charting their own path in STEM careers.
“Having role models is so key. It’s important for girls to see other women in STEM fields because it really lets them picture themselves there in the future. It helps them see that they can truly aspire to that dream.” – Bettina Chen
Women, especially those in ethnic minority groups, remain underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. The many barriers to female representation in STEM jobs, such as exclusion from STEM skill-training in schools and a lack of support and direction towards the related fields, are what organizations like the United Nations seek to mitigate in our society. It’s why Sustainable Development Goal 5 strives to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated on February 11, focuses on the issue of gender disparity in science while commemorating impactful women in the field. This article will highlight three women from the Caribbean who have made and are making meaningful contributions to STEM that can inspire and empower young girls and women.
Bahamian Environmental Hero: Kristal Ambrose
Kristal Ambrose is an environmental scientist (marine biologist) and activist whose fondness for nature has led her to join the rally for ensuring a sustainable future. Kristal’s connection to environmental conservation began at a young age when she joined her father on his daily swims.
Her passion was further cemented when, while working at an aquarium, she spent two days extricating plastics from a sea turtle. After this experience, she vowed she would “never drop a piece of plastic on the ground again”.
Even more, she recognized the dangers of plastic pollution when she was on a sailing expedition in the Pacific Ocean to study the Western Garbage Patch (a vast mass of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean). The plastic toys, combs, toothbrushes and other waste she saw triggered a moment of self-examination for her: “I was the biggest plastic consumer that I knew. I was a huge part of the problem, and equally, I felt I could be a huge part of the solution.”
She later channelled her advocacy to convince the Bahamian government to ban single-use plastics, plastic cutlery and straws, as well as Styrofoam cups and containers. Through other initiatives like the Bahamas Plastic Movement (2013), she tackles plastic pollution in her country.
Her Junior Plastic Warriors Environmental Program empowers youths to care for the environment and make more tangible impacts by finding original ways to repurpose plastic waste. Kristal has been awarded the 2014 Environmental Youth Leader Award from the Government of the Bahamas and most recently won the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmentalists.
Biophysicist and CariScholar Founder: Dr Jerelle Joseph
Dominica-born scientist, Dr. Jerelle Joseph, believes that young women in STEM should have solid mentorship and support to guide them in their journey towards pursuing their intended field of study. As such, she founded CariScholar, an organization that helps to achieve this. While attending the University of the West Indies (Cave Hill Campus, Barbados), she developed a passion for scientific research.
Her fondness for research was firmly established when she completed a Theoretical Chemistry Research project with Professor Sean McDowell at the university. Jerelle went on to complete her Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2018 at the University of Cambridge, and during her time as a student, developed and tested computational methods to study protein folding.
Now, she is a junior research fellow at King’s College, Cambridge studying how the contents of cells are organized. “Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone,” she says. “We need to deconstruct our ideas about the roles of girls and women in society.”
Rocket Scientist and SheLeadsIt Consultant: Ayanna T. Samuels
Aerospace Engineer, Technology Policy Specialist, and International Development Professional, Ayanna T. Samuels, has promoted the need for gender equity in the STEM arena for many years. She holds three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – two Master of Science degrees in Technology Policy and Aerospace Engineering respectively, and a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering with Information Technology.
Ayanna was the only person from Jamaica to be accepted directly into MIT’s Class of 2002 and in 2005, as well as the only black woman since 1972 to earn a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from MIT.
As a consultant for SheLeadsIt, a global non-profit organization that creates opportunities for women and girls in STEM, she has used her empowering voice to address gender inequity in technology, and encourage girls to participate in scientific enterprises.
These scientists are excellent examples that women, even those who look like them, can achieve whatever they set out to accomplish. I believe that empowerment matters, and showing women that they, too, can break down institutional barriers to participate in STEM fields is vital to bridging the gender divide and promoting equality.
Kristal Ambrose – One Earth
Dr Jerelle Joseph – Personal Twitter
Ayanna T. Samuels – MIT Website
About Toshaunae Norris: I am a former sixth-form student of Campion College, Kingston, Jamaica. I enjoy writing articles and poems. In 2020, I wrote an essay as a participant of the CARICOM Competition Commission Regional Youth Competition on the prompt: “How does consumer protection laws benefit me and my region”. I received a top honourable mention in the 16-19 age category. I have leveraged my insights from this experience to enter other essay writing competitions like the John Locke Institute Essay competition 2020 and the Harvard Crimson Global Essay Competition 2021 which allowed me to build on my critical thinking and expository skills. I also hope to become an Astrophysicist and a future writer and later executive editor of the New York Times.