Ebony Sneed loves that the annual SMART Scholars Workshop is always teeming with role models – that is, female scientists – for her 13-year-old daughter.
“It’s good for her to see women who look like her who are in the sciences,” said Sneed, 37, of Durham.
Her daughter, Kamryn, who attended her third SMART workshop on Saturday, is enamored with the opportunity to immerse herself in science.
“At school, we don’t do hands-on science like here,” she said. “We do more paper work, reading.”
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She and the other attendees Saturday – all of them, like her, girls in middle school – participated in activities such as extracting DNA from fruit and experiments to determine the germ-killing ability of soaps and hand sanitizers.
A total of 125 girls, some of whom came from as far away as Charlotte and Virginia, registered for the free workshop held at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus. That was full capacity for the event; another 75 who wanted to register were disappointed.
“When y’all came through the door, you are now scientists,” Angela Grimes, a lab manager and adjunct biology instructor at Wake Technical Community College, told a group of students as they entered the breakout session she led. “You’re going to think like scientists from the beginning to the end.”
The goal of the annual SMART (Science and Mathematics Advanced Research Training) workshops – the brainchild of a local nonprofit, the Brilliant and Beautiful Foundation – is to inspire those students to choose a career in science.
The heavy lifting at Saturday’s workshop was done by about 50 women who have careers in science.
“I know the sacrifices others made to get me interested” in becoming a scientist, said volunteer Joi Jackson, a graduate student in cellular molecular biology at Duke University. “To be able to do that for the next generation of scientists is rewarding.”
The foundation was started in 2012 by two women, Tashni-Ann Dubroy and Tiffani Bailey Lash, who bonded when both were earning their Ph.D.’s in chemistry at N.C. State University. Today Dubroy, 34, is president of Shaw University and Lash, 35, is a health scientist administrator at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C.
Saturday also was Dubroy’s first official day as president of Shaw.
“I get to celebrate it with young people,” Dubroy said. She was named Shaw’s 17th president in June, but the appointment didn’t go into effect until Saturday. She previously was special assistant to the president for process optimization and chair of the university’s Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
The foundation is the second joint venture for Dubroy and Lash. In 2009 they co-founded a hair care business, Tea and Honey Blends. Soon they were fielding a steady stream of requests from schools and other groups to “speak to young people about pursuing their dreams,” Dubroy said.
Those requests were partly because they had taken the unusual step of using their scientific backgrounds to create a consumer business. In addition, they stood out by “the mere fact that we were black women Ph.D. chemists,” Dubroy said.
So, for them, creating the foundation was a logical next step.
“We have always had a passion for giving back,” Lash said.
We can all be scientists in our own right, despite what we look like on the outside.
The workshops target middle-school girls because “studies have shown that, around the age of 10 to 13, is when young girls start to view themselves as not being smart enough to pursue a science career,” Dubroy said. “We still don’t know what all the causative factors are.
“What we are trying to do is tell them there is no stereotype to what a scientist looks like or who a scientist is,” she said. “We can all be scientists in our own right, despite what we look like on the outside.”
Tameka Lash, 46, of High Point, took her 12-year-old daughter Sydney to the conference because she excels in math and science and is getting to the age when she is starting to think about career choices.
“I think it’s great they promote young women to be interested in the sciences, which in the past – it is changing – has been a male-dominated” field, she said.