Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM: Meet Andrea
“Chicago’s Black Women in STEAM” is a series on The Adler ’Scope that highlights the awesome women of Chicago who are doing amazing things in science, technology, engineering, art, and math fields here in our own community. Meet women of varying ages, backgrounds, and interests and learn their unique stories.
Physics Graduate Student at the University of Chicago
What first sparked your interest in astrophysics?
I have fond memories of watching a lunar eclipse in the Alabama countryside with my family as a child. Also, my astronomy/astrophysics professor and advisor—Dr. Erin Bonning of Emory University—was a total rockstar and encouraged me to pursue my dream of being an astrophysicist even though I received my bachelors degree in biology.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your graduate experience so far?
I would say that the most rewarding part of having finished the half-way point to my doctorate is the ability to mentor and act as a role-model, especially for women/people of color. It is sometimes difficult to feel supported and encouraged when I’m the only minority in the room. I didn’t learn about going into academia as a career choice until I was in my third year of college. And still, it has taken me three years of graduate school to be convinced that I can complete a PhD.
We hear that you’re also a budding singer/songwriter! Do you find that there are similarities between your passion for astrophysics and your passion for music?
There are definitely similarities between my music and astrophysics. I am primarily a worship musician and my passion for the cosmos and my faith are happily matched.
I think music and astronomy go hand-in-hand, the Universe is anything other than static and things are often spontaneous. I like to think that my music is like that, much of my songwriting happens when I pick up my guitar and start playing a tune and the words just flow—just like a stream of particles from a spinning neutron star!
What advice would you give to young girls of color who are interested in pursuing careers in STEAM?
I would say this: Be strong and always remember to be yourself. Just because you’re the only person in the room who looks like you or has your specific point of view, does not mean you should be discouraged! Leverage your differences as your strengths, because they are. STEAM needs you to be uniquely you so that the field can excel. Find your people, stay away from the haters and keep pushing forward. You may not always see them, but there are tons of people rooting for you to succeed and so many others who are watching you and hoping to follow in your footsteps.