Joye Hummel, first woman hired to write Wonder Woman comics, dies at 97
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Joye Hummel at a comic-con convention speaking on a pannel.

By Harrison Smith

In March 1944, shortly before Joye Hummel graduated from the Katharine Gibbs secretarial school in Manhattan, she was invited to meet with one of her instructors, a charismatic psychologist who had been impressed by her essays on a take-home test.

Over tea at the Harvard Club, professor William Moulton Marston offered her a job — not in the classroom or psych lab, but in the office of his 43rd Street art studio. He wanted Ms. Hummel to help him write scripts for Wonder Woman, the Amazonian superhero he had created three years earlier and endowed with a magic lasso, indestructible bracelets, an eye-catching red bustier and a feminist sensibility.

PHOTO: Wikipedia

Ms. Hummel, then 19, had never read Wonder Woman; she had never even read a comic book. But Marston needed an assistant. His character, brought to life on the page by artist H.G. Peter, was appearing in four comic books and was about to star in a syndicated newspaper strip. He was looking for someone young who could write slang and who, perhaps most importantly, shared his philosophy and vision for the character.

“You understand that I want women to feel they have the right to go out, to study, to find something they love to do and get out in the world and do it,” Ms. Hummel recalled his saying. She was “astonished and delighted” by the job offer, according to historian Jill Lepore’s book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” and soon began writing for the comic. “I always did have a big imagination,” she said.

Ms. Hummel worked as a Wonder Woman ghostwriter for the next three years, long before any woman was publicly credited as a writer for the series. As invisible to readers as Wonder Woman’s transparent jet plane, she was increasingly recognized after Lepore interviewed her in 2014. Four years later, she received the Bill Finger Award, given to overlooked or underappreciated comic book writers at the Eisner Awards.

Ms. Hummel, who was known in recent years by her married name, Joye Murchison Kelly, died April 5 at her home in Winter Haven, Fla., a day after turning 97. Her son Robb Murchison confirmed the death but did not know the precise cause.

“Joye was absolutely a pioneer in bringing her own voice into these stories,” Lepore said in a phone interview. “She was then pretty much entirely forgotten. … I sort of think that people hadn’t bothered to find her. I called her up and said, ‘Are you the Joye Hummel who wrote Wonder Woman in the 1940s?’ She nearly dropped the receiver — she was delighted but surprised. It was a story she had told her grandchildren, but they didn’t believe her.”

By the time Ms. Hummel started writing for Wonder Woman, the comics had an audience of 10 million readers. The character debuted in a 1941 issue of All-Star Comics, three years after Superman first lifted a car on the cover of Action Comics and two years after Batman leaped across the pages of Detective Comics.

Together, the three superheroes became linchpins of DC Comics, with Wonder Woman emerging as arguably the world’s most famous female superhero. She appeared on the cover of Ms. Magazine’s first issue (“Wonder Woman for President”), inspired a hit 1970s TV show starring Lynda Carter and was revitalized for the big screen beginning in 2016, played by Gal Gadot

The character was “created by a whole series of women” who were never publicly credited, Lepore said. Marston — whose psychological research contributed to the development of the lie-detector test — received help from his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, as well as their partner, Olive Byrne, the daughter of radical feminist Ethel Byrne and niece of birth-control activist Margaret Sanger. Both women worked behind the scenes, forming a fruitful creative triad and secret domestic arrangement: one husband, two wives.

After Ms. Hummel became the first woman hired to write for Wonder Woman, Byrne gave her a copy of Sanger’s book “Woman and the New Race,” which advocated for legalized birth control, and told her it contained everything she needed to know about the character.

Ms. Hummel at first typed Marston’s scripts before writing more than 70 scripts of her own, with detailed instructions for the artists. She developed stories that were often more innocent than her boss’s, which showed Wonder Woman fighting fascism while also being bound, tied, lassoed or gagged. Years later, she recalled that when she brought her scripts to editor Sheldon Mayer, “He always OK’d mine faster because I didn’t make mine as sexy.”

All of the early comics were published under a pseudonym, Charles Moulton, invented by Marston. Individual writers were credited in later anthologies by DC, which revealed that Ms. Hummel was behind some of the series’ more fantastical stories, involving beautiful mermaids and winged maidens. “They’re like fairy tales,” said cartoonist and historian Trina Robbins, who later worked on Wonder Woman.

Ms. Hummel stopped writing the comics in late 1947, shortly after she married, deciding to stay home and raise her stepdaughter. Marston had died earlier that year, and the series passed to writers who did away with much of the comic’s feminist messaging, including a regular centerfold feature chronicling the lives of influential women.

The changes infuriated Ms. Hummel, who remained loyal to Marston’s original vision of Wonder Woman as an emblem of free and courageous womanhood. Decades later, she wrote in an email to Lepore: “Even if I had not left because of my new daughter, I would have resigned if I was told I had to make [Wonder Woman] a masculine thinking and acting superwoman.”

Joye Evelyn Hummel was born April 4, 1924, and grew up on Long Island. Her son said that she rarely spoke of her upbringing; at various times, both of her parents apparently managed a grocery store chain.

Read the full article at  The Washington Post.

Stacey Abrams is Re-Releasing Three of Her Romance Novels
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Stacey Abrams standing in front of a microphone stand while smiling away from the camera.

By , Vulture

Get ready to swoon. Berkley, a Penguin Random House imprint, is rereleasing three Stacey Abrams romantic suspense novels that have been out of print for many years. Originally published under the pen name Selena Montgomery, Rules of Engagement, The Art of Desire, and Power of Persuasion will be out in hardcover and audio in 2022. According to a release, each of these novels, which were her first published books, features “international espionage, page-turning action, a core love story, Black heroines, and a diverse cast of characters.”

While the Democratic political leader and Team Spike fan has since written bestsellers on topics from voter suppression to leadership, she has never shied away from her romance-novelist roots. “As my first novels, they remain incredibly special to me,” Abrams said in a statement. “The characters and their adventures are what I’d wished to read as a young Black woman — stories that showcase women of color as nuanced, determined, and exciting. As Selena and as Stacey, I am proud to be a part of the romance-writing community and excited that Berkley is reintroducing these stories for new readers and faithful fans.”

Click here to read the full article on Vulture.

How a Black Female-Owned Subscription Box Service is Helping Young Girls Feel Loved Every Month
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Three young girls lay on a bed laughing looking at the camera.

by Cassidy Allen Chubb

During Black History Month, the Atlanta Hawks highlighted two Black-owned businesses who played a pivotal role in the launch of the MLK Nike City Edition uniforms. With March being Women’s History Month and wanting to continue to celebrate Black-owned businesses in Atlanta, the Hawks partnered with Chase to tell Kelly Beaty English’s story and how she created SelfE Box.

What started as an idea that came from English’s own experiences growing up as young Black teen turned into helping Black girls feel loved and validated through each month’s curated subscription box. Cassidy Allen Chubb spoke with English about her journey and how she created a self-esteem box that’s delivered to girl’s doorsteps each month.

Tell me about how you got the idea to create SelfE Box.

The idea for SelfE Box was planted in my mind as a tween girl. My parents used to subscribe to tween and teen magazines for me and I remember reading them and thinking “none of these girls in here really look like me, their experiences don’t reflect mine.” They were just talking about things that culturally, I couldn’t relate to. The beauty and grooming advice didn’t necessarily work for me, for my hair texture and things as fundamental as washing your hair every day.

Black girls don’t wash their hair every day and so through things like that, I just felt very othered.

And so, there was that part of me that kind of wished that I could see more Black girls get hair and beauty advice that actually applied to our own lives.

I remember thinking about it like “gosh, if I could just go door to door and just give girls self-esteem.” And then at the time when I first had the idea, subscription boxes had kind of just come onto the scene. I paired the two ideas together and it was like, “Oh, we need a self-esteem box!”

What can girls and parents expect to receive in each box?
very month we pick a theme. Overall, we try to gear the boxes towards health, wellness and growing because that’s such an important topic for girls in that age group. For many of them, it’s the first time they’re starting to have to use products, their grooming habits are changing. We wanted to create a safe space to talk about what’s happening and coach them through that period. The overall theme is about health, wellness and grooming, but we pick a different topic every month. One month we did the move out of your comfort zone issue and we talked about the importance of physical movement and how it’s important to get up and going.
It could also be a theme related to mental health. In one issue we talked about anxiety and being at home and how that has that changed our world. We also have a career profile from a Black woman in every issue. We just try to find a woman who speaks to the topic for that month. We don’t want any particular type of career. We feature everything from women in sports, to women in business, to women in the arts.
Where did you grow up and were you exposed to Black entrepreneurs at a young age?

I’m from Atlanta. I lived in Southwest Atlanta for the first half of my childhood. And then we moved out to the suburbs for the other half of my childhood. My father was an entrepreneur. So it was right here in my household. One great thing about the city of Atlanta and growing up as a Black child here, you have the benefit of seeing Black professionals in all walks of life. My pediatrician was a Black woman who ran her own practice. My dentist was a Black woman who ran her own practice. My parents were very intentional about putting me around Black people where I could see myself in their stories.

What would you say is the most challenging part of being a black business owner?

It takes a crazy amount of self-belief to be an entrepreneur and specifically to be a Black female. I remember going to business summits and business conferences for women and they would have panelists from all of these very well-known brands. The women would be talking about, “Oh, I started this in college” or “I just had this idea and I was able to reach out to my dad’s network and we were able to raise a million dollars” just to test the idea, and for most black people, that’s just not our experience.

I’m an HBCU graduate. I have an incredible network. I’m very blessed to have friends who are doing literally probably anything that you can think of, but we as a people moving through our American journey do not have, for the most part, generations of wealth. So, we don’t just pass down homes and portfolios to our children. When we as Black people go to college and get our first offer letter, we are at the starting point, right? We are just then getting started, but so many of our peers are already years ahead of us, even at the starting line.

How do you continue to overcome those challenges and what keeps you going?

When I get the reaction photos from our SelfE girls and when I get the messages from moms who say their daughters wait at the mailbox at the end of the month and when that package is not there, she’s like, “Where’s my box?” that keeps me going. The impact that it’s made on girls’ lives so early and already….we’re not even a year old at this point. When I get those messages it gives me the fuel to go on. I have to do a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of selling, unfortunately, to get brands to partner with us, but I believe it will come. Because the impact that we’re making in these girl’s individual lives is great and it’s real.

What is something you would tell your younger self knowing where you are today?

I would say, keep going, raise your hand. Don’t question yourself. Don’t doubt. Don’t mask. Don’t try to blend in because everybody that you want to blend in with, is also trying to blend in with you. One of the things that we do as, as girls, and I think, well, until we become young women, is we look to the left and we look to the right. Instead, we need to continue to look straight ahead and look into that mirror and look into our own eyes, looking back at us, in our reflection and concentrate on her. Love her, give to her because everything that is unique about you was created specifically for you. If your hair is big or it’s curly, or it won’t lay down like the other girls, or maybe your body type is different, or your clothes fit differently–

All of the things that you’re trying to hide from people are the very things that are going to make you unstoppable in this world. It’s the very thing that is going to make people seek you out. It’s the very thing that’s going to make you successful. Keep your hand up, keep asking questions, keep not being afraid to be seen, because when you do that, all you’re doing is slowing down your progress later. There’s going to come a moment you’ll go, “you know what? I am great, and I can do this.” And the faster you get to that moment, the faster you get to everything that the world has to offer for you. Be you, be you without apology. You were born here just the way that you were supposed to be, to do all the things that you’re going to do.

Read the full article at NBA.

‘Freeing for me:’ Navajo woman becomes viral sensation with skateboarding videos
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Naiomi Glass is doing a trick on her skateboard in Arizona

by Brady Wakayama

An Arizona woman, born and raised in Navajo Nation, has become a viral sensation, showcasing her skateboarding skills on the reservation. Naiomi Glass hopes, with her growing platform, that a new skate park can be built and will inspire others to pursue their passions.

The 24-year-old, from Rock Point, Arizona, has gained tens of thousands of followers over the year on Instagram and TikTok who can’t get enough of her skateboarding.

Photo: Nexstar Media Wire

“I would see these sandstones and I was like ‘I wonder if I could skate that,’” Glasses said. “So then one day I was just like ‘you know what, let me just try it, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.’”

She learned how to skate when she was 5 years old from her older brother and hasn’t gotten off the board since.

“I’m not a professional at all, by any means, I just like to ride around,” Glasses said. “It’s very freeing for me.”

Glasses says skateboarding is very popular within the Navajo nation, despite the lack of pavement and only five skate parks throughout the area. Because of this, she said she is teaming up with a Navajo-inspired clothing company that plans to build a new skate park in “Two Grey Hills,” which is just two hours away from Glasses’ community.

“I love skateboarding so much and I would just love to bring that joy and love of it to other communities,” said Glasses.

Read the full article at WSPA.

Melody Ehsani Wants to Make Sneakers More Accessible as New Creative Director of Foot Locker’s Women’s Business
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Melody Ehsanisits and smiles as she sit ona couch next to a pink pillow.

By Aria Hughes

Foot Locker recently named Melody Ehsani the Creative Director of its women’s business, but what exactly does that mean?

According to Ehasni, she will be designing capsule collections for the sneaker retailer and curating a selection of Nike and Jordan products—since she’s partnered with Nike, she’s not able to work with competing brands. But for Ehsani, who started her eponymous women’s streetwear and accessories brand Melody Ehsani in 2007, her main goal is to make cool product more accessible to everyone.

Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for COACH

“It’s really important for me to democratize cool product,” says Ehsani over the phone. “Just because right now, as it stands, when I work with brands, we’ll do a release, and especially in the sneaker world, it’ll be a limited release, and most of the shoes end up being resold at crazy prices. And it never really gets into the hands of my customer, or my girls. I’ve always priced my things in a way, because there’s a certain community that I like to serve and that I would serve for free if I could. And so I feel like Foot Locker will help me provide that level of product, but to a wider audience where I can actually reach a lot of different girls.”

Ehsani, who says she’s been in talks with Foot Locker about this position for a year, says there will be Melody Ehsani x Foot Locker pop-up shops and their locations will be determined by a digital crowd-sourcing program that will take consumer feedback into consideration. Foot Locker says these pop-ups will open a week in advance of the capsule being available, so the city can shop the experience before it’s dropped globally.

Ehsani has built up the credentials needed to take on this role, which is a completely new position for Foot Locker. She’s worked on sneaker collaborations with Reebok and Nike, and maintained a store on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles—one of the few, if not only, stores catering to women on the streetwear strip—over the past 10 years.

Here, Ehsani speaks about what’s missing in the women’s sneaker market, what it’s been like working with a new investor for her own line, and if she will ever get back to making heels.

Read the full article at COMPLEX.

Costume Designers Francine Jamison-Tanchuck and Charlese Antoinette Jones on Ruth E. Carter’s Oscar Win
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costume designers Francine Jamison-Tanchuck and Charlese Antoinette Jones for oscar awards collage

Francine Jamison-Tanchuck has logged more than 40 years in the industry, with the Civil War epic “Glory” marking her first film as lead designer. But she says she’s often faced skepticism from an industry that sought to pigeonhole her talent. “At one point, there was that
feeling of ‘Does a woman know how to capture a war film?’ I thought, ‘Watch me,’” she recalls.

The pair detail their Hollywood journeys, discussing the triumphs and challenges they faced and revealing how they learned to defy expectations as Black women behind the scenes.

What movie or costume inspired you to become a designer?

Francine Jamison-Tanchuck: I’ve been designing and making costumes since I was 7 years old. I started doing things on my dolls, and I started making my clothes to match, and vice versa. I’ve always been a movie buff. I saw Dorothy Dandridge’s “Carmen Jones,” and I thought, “Wow, what an interesting profession to express yourself.”

Charlese Antoinette Jones: I was into old period films and a couple of epic films. I grew up Christian and was allowed to watch [only] certain movies. I remember watching “Ben-Hur” over and over for the costumes. I didn’t realize this was a career until I moved to New York.

Who opened the door and mentored you?

Jamison-Tanchuck: There was an opportunity that was starting through affirmative action, inviting people of color to come into the industry. I applied and got into the program from 450 applicants. I was an apprentice and had to work at four different studios within a year, and I made $100 a week. My mentors were Bernard Johnson and at one point I worked on a film with the famed Edith Head.

Antoinette Jones: The biggest hurdle for me is the fact that I wasn’t able to secure a mentor. I would see white people who were walked through the steps — getting that help and moving up quickly. [But] I was fine moving at the pace I was moving because I wanted to learn as much as I could.

Charlese, with “Judas and the Black Messiah” you had to re-create the look of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and his followers. How did you go about doing that?

Antoinette Jones: The majority of the clothing was vintage. We were sourcing clothes from all over the country. We were eBaying like crazy, finding vintage pieces. We were shipping clothes from L.A. I went to Fresno and met a vintage dealer. He had a warehouse of ’60s [clothing]. I filled my van. That’s the part of my job that I love. It’s so much fun — the procuring and the research.

Continue to the original article at Variety.

Black Dancer Calls Out Racism in ‘Elitist’ European Ballet World
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dancer chloe lopes gomes performing wearing a black dress ballet

“Our skin color should not be a criteria, only talent should matter,” ballerina Chloé Lopes Gomes told NBC News”

By Adela Suliman for NBC News

Other dancers, including in the United States, have voiced their support for Lopes Gomes, saying that it is high time for the ballet world to address racism and bigotry.

She said that in rehearsals at Berlin’s prestigious Staatsballett, which she joined in 2018, she was told her mistakes stood out because she is Black. In another incident, she said she was mocked when offered a white-colored veil for a show.

For some performances of “Swan Lake” she also said she was made to wear white makeup, despite the school formally dropping this requirement for people of color in the 2018-19 season. Though she acknowledged this was a “tradition” of the show, it was one she deemed outdated.

“Asking not only a Black person but a ballerina to color their skin to look whiter, I don’t think it’s right — I felt very humiliated and very alone,” she told NBC News.

“The harassment kept going, I was very depressed,” she added. During time-off for an injury in 2019, she said the combination of the injury and harassment led to her being prescribed antidepressant drugs. Almost a year after she returned to work, she learned her contract, which is scheduled to end in July, would not be renewed.

Lopes Gomes, whose father is from Cape Verde and mother is French and Algerian, said she made complaints to the company before learning that her contract would not be extended. She added that she felt compelled to go public with her experiences in order to improve the situation for future generations of Black dancers.

Read the full article at NBC News.

A software developer built a simpler vaccine sign-up website in her state while on maternity leave
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woman sitting at dining table sewing on a sewing machine wearing a mask

Originally posted on CNN

After her mother-in-law had difficulty signing up for a Covid-19 vaccine, a Massachusetts woman created a website to make it easier for her — and she made it easier for everyone.

Olivia Adams built a website that pulls in vaccination appointments from across the state, including government sites as well as ones operated by private businesses. She called it macovidvaccines.com.

Photo Credit: CNN

The 28-year-old software developer from Arlington, Massachusetts, says she spent three weeks and about 40 hours building the website — and she did it while on maternity leave caring for her 2-month-old son, she told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Monday.

“I thought I’d take a look and I was surprised at how decentralized everything was and how there are a thousand different websites to go to,” Adams said. “I thought, ‘How can I put my software skills to use to make this better in my free time?'”

Free time usually happened when her newborn is sleeping, Adams said. She said her 2-year-old son is at day care, so she’s lucky not to be caring for both during the day.

The inspiration came after listening to her mother-in-law, who had a tough time signing up for an appointment. Her mother-in-law is a dental hygienist who qualified for the first phase of vaccinations, she said.

“She had a little trouble figuring out where to go and how to get signed up,” Adams said. “She was able to do it, but it took a little while and then she had the same problem when she was able to sign her father up when he became eligible at the beginning of our phase two.”

Her family isn’t alone in their vaccine sign-up struggles. People across the country, from senior citizens to others in the early vaccine phases, have faced with hours waiting on the phone and logging online to see no spots available.

Adams examined Massachusetts’ online vaccine portal and realized she could make it better for everyone.

She said she is used to making complicated software related to health care needs in her job as a lead member of the technical staff at Athenahealth, a health care technology company.

But, she’s never created a website quite like this.

“This was my first time making a complicated website myself,” she said. “The hardest part about it is that every website that has availability information I have to kind of tell my computer how to read that website like a human. That’s where all the man hours went in.”

The vaccine appointments are available at a number of sites, from those run by the state to those administered at grocery stores and pharmacies. Parsing all that information for each provider is where it got a bit time consuming, she said.

Adams has a script that runs every five minutes across about 20 different vaccine sites, she wrote in an email.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was asked about Adams’ vaccine website at a press conference on Friday. “Send us her name, we’ll talk to her,” Baker said Friday.

Read the complete article here.

Cultural Brokers Build Bridges for African American Women in STEM
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by Danielle Ferguson, Ed.D., Researcher, American Institute for Research (AIR)

Dr. Danielle Ferguson, now a researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), focused her dissertation on African American Women in STEM: Uncovering stories of persistence and resilience through an examination of social and cultural capital.

In this article, Dr. Ferguson shares some of what she learned from her research.  

There have been many calls from researchers to increase the diversity of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field (Archer et al., 2015; McGee & Bentley, 2017), especially including the participation of more African American women. The lack of representation of African American women and other people from diverse backgrounds could be viewed through multiple lenses but diversity could only improve the global competitiveness of the United States. Furthermore, STEM careers provide economic benefits for individuals because they are amongst the fastest growing career path and provide higher salaries than other careers (Pew Research Center, 2018). 

Many teachers, professors, researchers, and others have answered this call to action by creating programs at the institutional level to increase the interest, participation, and retention of African American women in the STEM field, such as the Defense STEM Education Consortium program at Morgan State University. But what happens to African American women after they enter STEM careers? According to the eight successful African American women with a terminal degree in the STEM field, who were interviewed as part of Dr. Ferguson’s research, their experiences in their STEM careers are not what they expected. They feel undervalued, face both sexism and racism, and lack the guidance and support that they need to advance in the field. 

In order for African American women to be successful once they enter the STEM field, they need guidance and support. Glen Aikenhead (2001) argued that learning science is a cross-cultural event for non-white students, therefore success in the field requires a cultural broker. A cultural broker is someone who relates to an individual’s culture and the culture of science and can help individuals build a bridge between the two cultures. Cultural brokers offer individuals, including African American women, strategies for success in their field by providing them with specific feedback for how to advance in their field, introducing them to key people, and helping them navigate cultural borders by showing them how to leverage their cultural capital in the STEM fields. They encourage African Americans to bring their full selves to their careers while also assisting them in being successful in STEM. 

Cultural brokers spend time building relationships with African American women. They offer them authentic opportunities for professional growth. For example, instead of only suggesting that these women attend professional conferences, cultural brokers provide them opportunities to participate in projects that they can present at conferences. Additionally, cultural brokers help African American women understand the importance of attending professional conferences is networking with prominent researchers in the STEM fields and assist them in making important connections with these individuals. Cultural brokers assist African American women in getting articles published in peer-reviewed journals by modeling the process and connecting them with others with whom they can collaborate, since publications help individuals build prominence in STEM fields. Cultural brokers listen to African American women. They do not downplay the hardships that they face but work with them to find solutions to overcome the barriers. Furthermore, they advocate with and for African American women. In summary, the role of a cultural broker is to go beyond providing African American women with information but to assist these women in building bridges between their experiences and perspectives and the experiences that are valuable in STEM fields.

If we truly believe that increasing the diversity of STEM fields is beneficial to individuals and our nation, we cannot continue to encourage African American women to pursue STEM careers then leave them scrambling for opportunities once they arrive. We cannot continue to provide mentorship that requires these women to detach from their identities and culture. We have to become cultural brokers for these women to help them bridge the gap between their culture and the culture of science by providing genuine opportunities, support, and listening to these women. Trial by fire can no longer be a rite of passage in STEM, especially for African American women. 

References: 

Aikenhead, G. S. (2001). Integrating western and aboriginal sciences. Cross-cultural Science Teaching, 31, 337-355. 

Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillion, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2013). ‘Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous’: Primary school girls’ and parents’ constructions of science aspirations. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 21(1), 171-194. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2012.748676

Ferguson, D.S. (2016). African American women in STEM: Uncovering stories of persistence and resilience through an examination of social and cultural capital (Accession No. 10158857). [Doctoral dissertation, Morgan State University, Baltimore]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

McGee, E. O., & Bentley, L. (2017). The troubled success of Black women in STEM, Cognition and Instruction, 35(4), 265-289.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07370008.2017.1355211

Pew Research Center. (2018). “Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity.” Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/women-and-men-in-stem-often-at-odds-over-workplace-equity/

‘Muslim Women Are Everything’ Turns the Page on Stereotypes
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“I have wanted to write this book since I was 14, the year I finally understood Muslim women are everything.” — Dr. Seema Yasmin, author of “Muslim Women Are Everything”

Dr. Seema Yasmin’s book, born from her frustration with narrow, one-sided narratives about Muslim women, breaks apart tired old tropes. More than 40 profiles of Muslim women — illustrated by Fahmida Azim — aim to tear down the tiresome tropes of what Muslim women are: what they look like, what they wear, and what they do or don’t do. Page after page dares the reader to say these women cannot, or should not.
As for Dr. Yasmin: She is a Cambridge-trained medical doctor, a specialist in epidemiology, a journalist, and the director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative. She teaches at Stanford and is a visiting professor at U.C.L.A.

 

Image by Fahmida Azim, The New York Times.

She didn’t get there easily. She was born in Britain to a teenage mother, who was stuck in an arranged marriage. When Dr. Yasmin was just 5, her mother left the family to pursue her own education. As Dr. Yasmin tells it, “My mum was like: ‘I’m going to leave everything I know behind. I’m going to find a way to university so that you can have an education.’”

What followed for Dr. Yasmin was a childhood shuttling between worlds — the university where her mother was studying and her family’s conservative Indian Muslim community in the British Midlands. This book was born out of a “frustration that the narratives about Muslim women were so one-sided, so narrow, so unimaginative,” she said.

Continue to The New York Times to read the full article.

 

Meet the first black women to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from their respective colleges
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three black women nuclear engineers seated at table on the grass outside office building

By Amanda Zrebiec

On most days, the corner conference room in Building 26 on the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s Laurel, Maryland, campus is indistinguishable from the many quiet work spaces that surround it. But on a gray afternoon in mid-February, the voices, laughter and energy bounding from its occupants differentiate it from the rest.

As Jamie Porter, Mareena Robinson Snowden, and Ciara Sivels gather around the small table inside, the feeling of stumbling onto a gathering of old friends is difficult to shake. Their bonds, though, are forged less through time than their shared experience of being “the first.”

Each one—Porter, APL’s radiation effects lead for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission; Snowden, a senior engineer in the National Security Analysis Department; and Sivels, a nuclear engineer in the Air and Missile Defense Sector—was the first black woman to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in nuclear engineering from their respective colleges: University of Tennessee, 2012; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2018; and University of Michigan, 2018.

Now, Porter, Snowden and Sivels work in three different sectors at APL, dedicating their time and their brains to important challenges facing the nation. Here, they have created a community.

Path to the Ph.D.

“I used to hate physics,” Porter says with a laugh. “Lord, I don’t know how, but now I live in this world.”

Porter arrived in APL’s Space Exploration Sector in 2015. She focuses on radiation hardness assurance for all electric, electrical and electrochemical parts of missions, specifically NASA’s planned Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s icy moon. She also manages the sector’s Radiation Analysis and Test section.

Three years before she arrived at APL, Porter was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee. It’s likely, Porter said, that she was just the second black woman in the country to do so, after J’Tia Hart, who received hers from the University of Illinois and subsequently appeared on Season 28 of the CBS show Survivor.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Porter said her goal was to get a master’s. Her professor and graduate advisor, Lawrence Townsend, told her a Ph.D. was what she needed. Porter credited Townsend for pushing her—from undergraduate classes through her doctorate, and even a postdoctoral fellowship. “He told me, ‘You need to do this for yourself, and you need to do this for other people,’” Porter said.

It wasn’t until Porter was nearing her graduation that Tennessee discovered she’d be their first. They didn’t publicize it at the time—a decision reached through a conversation with Porter, where the school admitted embarrassment that it took until 2012 to reach the milestone. They later acknowledged regret at not celebrating it more publicly.

“I actually got to be the speaker at the hooding ceremony the year after I graduated, and it resonated with a lot of people,” Porter said.

When Snowden became the first black woman to earn a nuclear engineering Ph.D. from MIT in 2018, on the contrary, it was well publicized, particularly after her own Instagram post from graduation day went viral. That doesn’t mean her path to that moment was smooth. In retrospect, it wasn’t even a path she necessarily chose.

“People ask me, ‘How did you pick nuclear engineering?’ and I’m like, ‘Nuclear engineering picked me.’ You get a ticket, you get on the train,” she said.

Snowden credited her father, Bill Robinson, with guiding her into studying physics as an undergraduate at Florida A&M University, a historically black college in Tallahassee. It was a visit with a friend of a friend who worked at the school that started her trajectory.

The mantra of FAMU is they don’t expect you to be the best student on the way in, but you will be the best and most competitive student on the way out. That, Snowden said, was absolutely her experience.

It was acceptance into a summer research program at MIT after her freshman year that set Snowden on a firmer course. “It was the only application I sent out because I just knew I was going to be at FAMU doing research in the lab like normal,” she said. “But they messed around and accepted me. And we celebrated like I got into the Ph.D. program.”

A few years later, she did that, too.

Snowden, whose work at APL leverages her technical training in nuclear engineering on current and future national security challenges, applied to eight graduate schools. She got into one.

That’s where she met Sivels.

Sivels and Snowden first connected when the former was an undergraduate MIT student in nuclear engineering and the latter was working toward her Ph.D. That fact alone would knock a 16-year-old Sivels over with a feather.

Originally wanting to be a chef, Sivels’ chemistry teacher pushed her to explore her options—urging her to take his class (advanced placement chemistry) as a senior, recommending she look into chemical engineering schools, and turning her down time after time as she suggested potential colleges that might be a good fit.

“He kept saying, ‘This isn’t good enough, this isn’t good enough,’” Sivels recalled.

To boost her credentials for engineering school, Sivels enrolled in a local community college physics class that covered the history of the discipline. Fascinated by antimatter, she read about work at the California Institute of Technology. The Virginia native showed that school to her mom, who nixed the idea. But as she researched Caltech further, their rival, MIT, popped up.

“I didn’t know what MIT was, the prestige associated with it, anything,” said Sivels, whose work at APL focuses on how radiation interacts with and changes the properties of various types of materials. “It just came up in the sentence with Caltech, so I took it back to my teacher, Robert Harrell, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the kind of school you need to be applying to.’”

Even after she was accepted, Sivels was certain she’d be attending Virginia Commonwealth University. It was a campus visit to MIT—coupled with the release of the movie 21—that helped convince her of the school’s esteemed reputation.

Her undergraduate studies were difficult. Sivels noted, among other setbacks, she failed a class and shed many a tear. She got through it, and knew she wanted to further her impact in the field. That’s when her advisors suggested moving on to Michigan for her graduate education.

And it wasn’t until she went searching for a mentor there—preferably another black woman who’d gone through the program—that Michigan noted she’d be the first.

 The Challenges of Being the First

In many ways, these women know they are the exception, not the rule. They were able to navigate turbulent waters and persevere through biases and other challenges.

It doesn’t mean, however, that just because they did it, black women trying to get nuclear engineering Ph.D.s are suddenly no longer the exception.

“I come from an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities], and so much of that culture and legacy is about that question of responsibility,” Snowden said. “FAMU was intentional about teaching us the context—about what it meant to be black in America and in professional spaces. I went into my Ph.D. process with that context, so when I came up against a challenge, or a person coming at me sideways, I could leverage that context to help me interpret the situation.”

“Both of my parents went to HBCUs, so I had that training, too,” Sivels added. “My parents didn’t want to jade me, but they knew I was smart, and they knew it was coming…When I used to cry to them at MIT, my parents were like, ‘You’ll get over it. Welcome to the world—something is finally hard for you.’”

Porter, who grew up in Tennessee with a white mother and a black father, said, “There are moments when I am like gosh, I do feel the pressure, because I have to deal with comments or expectations that my counterpart does not. Sometimes I will send out an e-mail that says, ‘This is a learning moment, please do not do this [thing you may not think is offensive, but is offensive],’ and I’ll put it out there because I feel like…”

As Porter trails off, Sivels jumps in. “If you don’t, who will?”

“That’s exactly right,” Porter said. “But it’s hard. You have to pick and choose your battles. You have to think, ‘How is this going to affect me if I react right now?’”

“I read a paper once that talked about that,” Snowden said. “They called it the tax. It’s the tax you have to pay of being ‘one of only’ of an identity. That extra calculation you have to do in your mind of ‘How am I going to be perceived in this environment? How do I respond to this stimulus?’ That’s a tax your counterparts from majority populations don’t have to pay.”

And that, the women noted emphatically, doesn’t even include bouts of impostor syndrome that often lurk just around the corner even as they continue their ascents.

Eyes on the Future

To listen to Porter, Snowden and Sivels, you’d think their trailblazing happened with a shrug of the shoulders—they just put their heads down and did what they thought they were supposed to do. It wasn’t nearly so simple.

They also know the rewards of their perseverance come with a duty to future generations.

“I definitely feel a responsibility,” Porter said. “I am the lead radiation engineer for a billion-dollar flagship NASA mission, and when I do reviews, most often I am the only black person in the room. So, I try really hard to bring people with me.”

They make an effort to mentor those behind them. They work on committees and in outreach programs, like the IF/THEN Ambassador program, of which Sivels is a part.

And they tell their stories. They talk about their journeys so that their shared experiences as “the first” are ultimately just a way to pave the road for those behind them.

“I look at the diversity and inclusion conversation as two sides to one coin,” Snowden said. “You have the recruitment piece, and the second, less-talked-about part, is the retention piece. Once they’ve gotten into these programs, and they’ve gotten their Ph.D.s and they’re STEM professionals, how do we get them to and through mid-career, promoted up to senior levels, given power so they can hire, and all of those types of things that will make an impact?

“Now, I think the mission is to preserve the recruitment momentum but create a new body of momentum on the retention piece, but it’s the harder challenge to me.”

In a way, what Porter, Snowden and Sivels would like is for their accomplishments as “the firsts” to fade. For them to be the firsts of many—and for that to extend through to professional life.

“I love outreach,” Porter said. “It’s telling your story. It’s letting a little girl see what’s possible. [Snowden and Sivels] saw each other [at MIT], but they didn’t really see it was possible until it happened. I didn’t see anybody and it was just like, ‘Well, this is happening.’

“But it all goes back to that responsibility and the fact that now we have that responsibility to put ourselves out there—so other girls can see it’s possible.”

Photo Caption: From left, Jamie Porter, Ciara Sivels, and Mareena Robinson Snowden, who all now work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, were each the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from their respective colleges in nuclear engineering.

Credit: Johns Hopkins APL / Craig Weiman

This story is courtesy of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. This is an abridged version. The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, or to read the unabridged story, please visit www.jhuapl.edu.

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  1. Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE)
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    August 16, 2021 - August 19, 2021
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