Black Women in STEM: Tips for Navigating the HBCU Experience

Last Updated on March 17, 2017

A Black female STEM major looks into a microscope while working in a lab on campus.March is Women’s History Month, we can’t celebrate this month without celebrating the accomplishment of Black Women in STEM. Black Women in STEM have been making contributions in the STEM fields for decades; many of them have at least one degree from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). I’m a proud Black Woman in STEM that is an HBCU alumna; this year will make 16 years since I left Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) with my Bachelors of Science (BS) in chemical engineering. My network is full of FAMU alumni and other HBCU alumni that have STEM degrees and making great strides in their various career paths that started at HBCUs.

I’m a proud HBCU alumna and if I had to do it all over again I would still chose to attend a HBCU, even if it wasn’t FAMU, as the place that I started my journey to become a STEM professional. I would not be who I am as a woman, STEM professional, STEM Educator and social entrepreneur if I had attended a Predominately White Institution (PWI) instead of a HBCU. The things that I learned inside and outside of the classroom, the relationships that I built and the cultural experiences while at FAMU were the foundation for my career. Plus the added bonus of the love and support you receive when you connect with a Fellow Rattler and/or HBCU alumni is like none other. Below are a few tips for the current and aspiring HBCU STEM majors for navigating your college experiences to become a Black Women in STEM that will make great contributions in your field and community.

Watch Your Social Media and Web Presence

Social media is a great tool to stay connected with family and friends, find news and keep up with current trends and many other things. You must remember that your social media and web presence are a huge component of your personal and professional brand. You don’t want to post anything on social media that can hinder your ability to pursue professional opportunities. My rule of thumb for social media is not to post anything that I wouldn’t tell a stranger in the elevator. I also suggest that you use one platform which you keep private for your personal use, set up a LinkedIn account for your professional use and maybe an Instagram or Twitter account that you use to follow and organizations and individuals in your field.

Building Relationships Are Just as Important as Getting Good Grades

Don’t spend all of your time studying alone. Spend time building relationships with your classmates, upperclassmen, alumni and faculty and staff. College is the time when you start to build your professional network that will shape your career. Make sure that you build genuine relationships and invest time and energy in building those relationships throughout your college career. Try to maintain as many of them as you can, those that seem like a natural fit after you graduate.

Spent Time in the Career Center and Build Relationships with the staff

The great thing about attending a HBCU is that many organizations come to your campus specifically to recruit and hire African American students for their job and internship opportunities. These companies schedule their information sessions and interviews through the career center. The career center is also the place that you will learn soft skills and professional skills such as resume writing, interview skills etc. that are critical to your career development but you won’t learn in the classroom. Registering with your career center and building relationship with the staff will allow you to take advantage of these opportunities and learn the skills that you need to build your career.

Get a Job in Your Field

The most important thing that you can do in order to ensure that you are competitive for post-graduation opportunities is to get work experience in your major or a related field. These opportunities include academic research experiences (academic year and summer) and internships. Do these experiences as early in your academic career as possible, some of these experiences you can start as early as your sophomore year. The great thing about being a STEM major is that many of the internship and research experiences are paid opportunities.

Join and Be Active in STEM clubs and professional societies

STEM professional organizations are where you will find the individuals (colleagues and mentors) that will build your professional network. This network also includes the members of your chapter and members of chapters at other colleges and universities when you attend regional and national conferences. Being active also provides opportunities for you to develop professional expertise and add things to your resume with leadership positions, participating in STEM competitions and presenting your research at conferences.

Enjoy the HBCU cultural and social experience

Go to homecoming! Attend athletic events and support the street vendors that sell food and other things during them. Spend time in the student center or your school’s version of FAMU’s set. Get and wear your school’s paraphernalia. Visit the art or history museum on campus, attend plays and concerts. Participate in events and learn traditions that are unique to your college or university.

Obtaining your STEM degree at a HBCU will equip you with the content knowledge, professional skills and confidence to graduate with your HBCU STEM degree and do amazing things. You will join the ranks of Black Women in STEM that are setting the example for you, opening doors for you and will be there to guide, encourage and support you. Keep in mind that as you are looking up to the women that have gone before you, there is a little black girl coming behind you that is looking up to you.

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