Youthful Scientist’s Vision Entails Leading More Women Of Color To STEM Careers

0 Posted by - September 3, 2022 - BLACK EDUCATION, BLACK TECHNOLOGY, Black To The Future

By Victor Trammell

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Scientist, engineer, speaker, host, author, mainstream entertainment critic, content producer, and storyteller Titi  Shodiya (pictured) is ingrained with a penchant for visualizing ordinary occurrences via a scientific perspective – for the purpose of making scientific terminology become more easily absorbed – by individuals from cultures, which are less contemporary than the one that makes up the prevailing society inside the STEM career fields.

Shodiya was birthed and reared in the Maryland county of Prince George’s. In 2010, Shodiya earned a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering with a minor in Mathematics from Penn State. 2015 saw her graduate from Duke University with a Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 2015, Shodiya received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.

She is devoting her career to utilizing acquired expertise as a materials scientist and mechanical engineer to affect scientific realms, mainstream entertainment pipelines, and elsewhere. In an exclusive interview with (for the publication’s “Black to the Future” segment), Shodiya describes another of her aspirations: guiding the future generation’s women of color into the non-inclusive STEM job sector in the Western world.

*NOTE FROM EDITOR: The interview that follows has been altered for clarity.

1. In addition to summarizing a more concise, elaborate, and personable early life chronology, identify the moment when you decided you would pursue your current career.

I was born and raised in PG County, MD to my parents, who are from Nigeria (father) and Ghana (mother). I have two sisters who both have degrees in engineering. I went to elementary and middle school at Riverdale Baptist and high school at Queen Anne School. When I was young, probably six or seven, I had a conversation with my mother where she told me that her father was an engineer. I had no idea what an engineer was, so I asked her more about it. At that moment, I decided that engineering was the career path for me. When I told her “I want to be an engineer like Grandpa” without hesitation, she said “you will be”. My parents nurtured my passions, and without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I went to Penn State University after high school and graduated in 2010. There, I majored in Materials Science and Engineering, minored in Mathematics, and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

After graduating, I started graduate school at Duke University and received a Masters in Electrical Engineering (2012) and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (2015). While in grad school, I met my best friend Zakiya Whatley, and we came up with the idea for our podcast, Dope Labs, based on our experiences as scientists. Dope Labs is a podcast that shows how science intersects with pop culture, with the hope of showing that science is in everything and science is for everybody. We launched in February of 2019, and it has been a huge success. Michelle Obama tweeted about Dope Labs. We have been nominated for numerous podcast awards, we were named in Essence Magazine’s Woke 100 in 2019, and we were the #8 science podcast in the country in 2020. Recently, we had the honor of being on a panel on the power of audio storytelling at EssenceFest for Spotify. When Pandora saw my post about EssenceFest and other achievements, they selected me to be gifted a piece from their newest collection, “Diamonds By Pandora,” for their campaign celebrating women experiencing milestones no matter how big or small. Only 100 women were selected, and I am so honored to be one of them. The stories of the other women are so inspiring and being mentioned with them in this campaign is empowering.

2. Much has been lamented and reported about the difficulties women and people of color (particularly blacks) have in gaining entrance into the STEM fields. Describe the obstacles you overcame, as well as the early intangible opportunities at your disposal, which contributed to your current success.
It’s difficult in white male-dominated spaces to find your place and voice. There were a number of times when I felt excluded from scientific discourse, looked over for opportunities, and had my work scrutinized unfairly. I even had a person tell me that I should drop out of college because I “wasn’t smart enough”. So when I went back to Penn State in 2021 as the commencement speaker, that was a really proud moment for me. There are also many people and organizations who see my worth, the potential impact of my work, and my capabilities. Those people gave me opportunities to shine by creating space for me and celebrating my successes, big or small. It can be hard to stop and lift your head to see all that you have accomplished in a world that is constantly telling you to “keep grinding,” but I think both are possible: to celebrate yourself and know that the work isn’t finished. I am so happy to add Pandora to the list of organizations that are rooting for me. This stunning jewelry will always remind me to celebrate myself at every stage of my career.
3. Science is a field that is based on the cultivation of empirical data. What have you learned as a scientist that has given you solid evidence in a way that theoretical applications may have not gained?
I think throughout my career, I have learned that unlearning something that we previously believed to be true because we have more information is one of the most powerful things we can do…in the lab and in life. Pandora is doing just that with its lab-created diamond collection. As a scientist, I know what it takes for diamonds to be made and mined in nature. Using technology, Pandora has created diamonds with the same chemical and optical properties. This effort makes diamonds more accessible, giving everyone a chance to have diamonds in their jewelry collection.
4. I see the information here in the correspondence, which describes your desire to be a leader in successfully recruiting a new generation of women in STEM who will come after you. Who would you name as your biggest inspiration when it comes to the women of color in your chosen field that came before you?
My biggest inspirations are women and women of color who are pursuing their passions unapologetically, creating a life they love and creating a pathway for others to follow. Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Issa Rae, Myliek Teele, Brittany Luse (co-host of “For Colored Nerds”), Camille McCallum (owner of “Black Woman on a Mission” brand), Joanna Simkin (celebrity make-up artist), Zakiya Whatley (my best friend and co-host), my mother, and my sisters. I’ve also had the pleasure of learning more about the 99 other women selected for the Diamonds by Pandora campaign and am truly inspired by all of them.
5. Describe the most important accolade you hope to secure in the next ten years.Also, elaborate on that by personably disclosing what you believe will be your full lifelong legacy will be all about.
I try not to have tunnel vision when it comes to accomplishments because it can lead to missing out on amazing opportunities that may not fit into that specific vision. With every new opportunity, I approach it with enthusiasm, and my only hope is that I am able to have an impact. I hope my legacy will be that I loved life; that I never stopped being a student of life; and that I always looked for ways to serve the global community.

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