This article can be found in the March/April issue of Delux Magazine, an urban lifestyle magazine I’ve been writing for since 2009.
Inspiring a Generation
While scouring the web early one morning, my daily routine to avoid prepping for work, I was floored by a headline on The Root: “A Story of Perseverance: Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green Shares Her Path to a Million-Dollar Research Grant.” Could there be more than one Hadiyah-Nicole Green, I wondered? Upon clicking on the link I was shocked to see my fellow Alabama A&M University alum and line sister’s face! In the days that followed I saw similar articles from Black Enterprise to the New York Times. I was overjoyed at this black girl magic scrolling across my laptop.
Hadiyah and I pictured with other members of the Greater St. Louis Student Association in either the 2005 or 2006 Alabama A&M yearbook. Yes, there were enough students from STL that we created an organization. This is but a small percentage of those enrolled at the university at the time.
Via my Facebook album of Alabama A&M’s 2008 homecoming.
I immediately reached out to congratulate her and it led to a discussion about her plans for this grant and her future. The HBCU Research Scientist Training Program grant is part of the VA’s research and development program. “This grant [for early career scientists] will help further develop the treatment for solid tumors that I’ve been working on for the last ten years. It has two different platforms: one that has demonstrated ~100% elimination of tumors in mice after a single 10-minute treatment and the other is a minimally invasive approach to target, image, and treat tumors. My goal is to optimize the performance of the second platform to achieve the same ~100% therapeutic efficacy as the first platform. My dream is that one day my treatments will minimize the suffering that humans currently experience during cancer treatments. I hope to make President Obama’s ‘moonshot’ and change the way we treat cancer in America.”
Hadiyah has had several people along the way teach her techniques but is used to working on the bench solo. She does, however, understand the pay it forward concept. “I’m excited to get more grants and find good, qualified people to help me carry out the work. I can only do so much with my two hands.”
This leads me to her HBCU upbringing, which she credits as assisting in the preparation for the demands of being a physicist. We both agreed that our alma mater had a nurturing environment. “People cared. It built my confidence. They poured into me, almost like they created what you guys see today in the best possible way. There was so much love and support.” One mentor in particular, Aisha Fields, who eventually became the 50th Black Woman in the United States to earn a PhD in Physics, stopped Hadiyah as she left a calculus class her freshman year to talk and find out more about her. “She challenged me to be a physicist.” Though Hadiyah fought it initially, saying a major in physics is hard; she was encouraged to try anyway under the notion that if she could handle calculus as a freshman, she could handle the physics program. This mentor was right. “I ended up getting a 4.0 in my major thanks to her telling me I could do it. Who knew that the 50th African American female PhD in the U.S. would directly create the 76th one? This is the power of mentoring.”
Support. Hearing, “You can do it!” Having people you trust genuinely want to help. “It’s a significant difference being at an HBCU and a predominantly white institution; like night and day. It’s the difference of being around family then going to a room full of strangers.” Those who were in her corner made up for those who said mean things, discouraged her, or put unnecessary obstacles in her way. “For every experience that seemed negative, I had someone uplifting me,” she says adding the importance of seeing the bigger picture and keeping your dream at the forefront.
Along with supportive people in her corner, curiosity and nosiness led Hadiyah down her current path. “Science was not necessarily in my future visions. I was nosey, asking questions all the time. I wish someone had told me earlier that when asking questions, consider a career in science. I think sometimes in cultivating the minds of children, we take away the mysticism in science. We can encourage kids to figure out what they’re curious and passionate about, and to explore that.” She adds that she was discouraged to talk back, “But in a way if I didn’t question what was expected, I would’ve never come up with the idea to develop an alternative treatment for cancer. Sometimes it’s good to question authority.”
I inquired about how it felt being singled out by race and gender in the recent articles. “It’s one of those things where on one hand, I never think about being a black female physicist until people bring it up. Then I have the realization that I’m in a category that is pretty elite, but I’m not an elitist. I’m like everybody else, doing my best to let this little light of mine shine. I don’t think about race or gender or degree. But I do know it’s important for me not to hide behind my work. The feedback I’m getting – especially from the little girls playing me in Black History Month plays and doing reports on me – is worth every interview, article, and accolade. They need to see me. I didn’t have an example like me to look at when I was little. I think a black female scientist should get some of the spotlight and attention celebrities get. Maybe not me, but scientists can endorse products, be on a Cheerios box, be a Covergirl…”
She continues, “It’s important for children to see that image.” One route to getting more African Americans involved in this career is giving them examples of who they can be.
Follow Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green at www.facebook.com/drhadiyahnicolegreen.
For a list of black female PhDs in the country go to www.aawip.com/physics-astro-only-list.html.
Due to my love for HBCUs and adjunct professorship at local university, Harris-Stowe, I also wrote the cover story on their current president. Read more here.