We come to college to learn from books, but the biggest lessons we gain are from the people we cross paths with. As a woman of color at a predominantly white institution (and predominantly male), it can be challenging to find confidence in yourself. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many inspirational women of all ages and even more so, women of color that seek out not only to advance themselves, but the people around them as well.
For this post I will be highlighting one particular woman that has gone above and beyond at Embry-Riddle. Meet Naia!
Naia is a junior in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Applied Mathematics. She is actively involved in National Society of Black Engineers, McNair Scholars, Kappa Mu Epsilon, Bible Study, and Dreams Soar Inc. With all of this on her plate, Naia is also the founder of Embry-Riddle Dancing Eagles. Naia is a Pathways intern at NASA Glenn Research Center working on a High Power Density CubeSat project. Although she began her Pathways internship last September, she is currently on her second cycle of the program.
Astronaut and NASA Glenn Research Center Director, Janet Kavandi (left) and student Naia (right) being sworn in for her first day as a Pathways intern.
I’ve watched Naia from the moment she arrived thrive among her peers as an individual, but even the most successful people have fears about fitting in! She was excited to answer a few questions in hopes of relating to other women of color pursuing, or currently in STEM fields.
“As a woman of color on campus, I feel the biggest challenge I face is Atychiphobia – the fear of being wrong. Stereotypes of women of color in society are often negative.”
As a ‘super-minority,’ women of color often feel intimidated in their academic space. We are subjected to expectations on how we act, dress, and behave. These false expectations can place a lot of pressure on women of color.
“I never want to feel like an undeserved token student or the stereotypical uneducated black female,” Naia added.
Like Naia, we’ve faced this fear of our mistakes overpowering our academic strength. Like Naia, however, I have learned to overcome this. I, myself, was fortunate enough to meet Naia, and many women like her within the past few years, who strives beyond false expectations and imaginary boundaries and women that make their own connections and find motivation to persevere.
Organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals exist on our campus to allow minorities such as ourselves to flourish. Such organizations exist for other minority groups as well such as the Society for Hispanic Engineers. All of these clubs, and hundreds more are open to everyone.
Naia’s advice? “Remember to build a network of like-minded, motivated and positive individuals.”
Always remember your goal. How do you define success? Finding people that define success the same way you do will allow you to excel. Women of color have an opportunity to flourish academically and socially alongside women like Naia at Embry-Riddle. The university has an abundance of student organizations that can allow you to find the connections you need to persevere. We may have to work twice as hard for recognition, but we do it together.
We met Ms. Johnson at an annual career fair representing NASA and took it upon ourselves to network! We were then invited for a private tour of Kennedy Space Center. Don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities!(From left to right – Grace Johnson, Education and Youth Projects, Moriah Graham from Aeronautical Science, Danielle Rosales from Communication, and now alumna Cheyenne Nurse with a B.S. in Spaceflight Operations (formerly Commercial Space Operations)
Never forget that we’re more than a statistic, we’re breaking the glass ceiling. We’re pushing the boundaries for another generation. Naia and I encourage women of color to look past fears, concerns and intimidation to attend schools like Riddle to embrace who you are while achieving your dream. There are no limits.