Chasity describes herself as “a triple minority”. Despite the associated problems she discusses, she has worked for a successful career, and helped others along the way.
Whilst in High School, visiting the Illinois State Police (ISP) crime lab as part of a program at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale (SIUC) sparked Chasity’s aim to study chemistry and forensics.
“I told myself then, I was going to go to SIU, major in chemistry, and intern at ISP crime lab…
…and I did just that.”
At school, a particular teacher stood out for Chasity. Mr Robert Shaw, who taught chemistry and mathematics, became her mentor - and also persuaded her to become the Math Club president. Teaching others has featured throughout Chastity’s career: high school, where she helped teach science and mathematics, was no exception.
Despite knowing after that forensic lab visit that she wanted to study chemistry, Chasity’s high school did not have a lab. This for her was one of the best things about university:
“As a beginner, sometimes it was like doing magic. Even though it was sometimes challenging, I did enjoy learning other areas of chemistry (i.e analytical, organic, and forensic). I enjoyed watching reactions manifold when reacting chemicals together, and how programmed software can stimulate liquid phase chemical reactions.”
Chasity is now a graduate student at Purdue University working for a PhD in analytical chemistry. Her research is about the interaction between radicals and biological systems - her goal is to characterise biomolecules and study their gas phase ion chemistry using mass spectrometry. She will be the first person from her high school to obtain a PhD.
Research isn’t the only thing Chasity is involved in at Purdue: she is president of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers and has initiated a STEM book drive for schools in Ghana, with the collaboration of Agape Village of Hope International. Whilst travelling to Ghana to visit the Chemistry Department and talk to faculty and students, she also spent a week with the Sun Shade Foundation of which she is an advisory board member. A two year grant from Purdue University meant that she was able to start a tutoring program in the community. “Love Your Neighbourhood Tutoring/Mentoring Program” teaches STEM subjects to children of all ages.
Chasity feels strongly about minorities having a voice. She is involved with various organisations (see below), and, when we asked her what she would have done had she not become a chemist, her reply was “I would have become a math teacher or I would be some type of community mentor to underrepresented youth”.
She feels that it can be harder for minority groups to work within the scientific community:
“It might be a little better now than the past but I feel females, especially minority females, are looked down on as if they are less than men. I think women are challenged more. I come from a poverty-stricken community and people see us as a group of people who will not succeed. The biggest challenge I have had to overcome is being a triple minority (black + female + raised in a low income neighbourhood). Every step of the way I felt I had to work harder to not live by the daily society statistics”.
Chasity has not let this stop her: in July 2014, she will start work at BASF’s Professional Development Program and looks forward to future work in chemistry.
Chasity is involved with the Black Graduate Student Association, Illinois Louis Stokes Alliance Program, the McNair Scholars Program, Midwest Crossroads Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), Bridge to Doctorate Program, Muticultural Science Program, and the Black Togetherness Organization.
Words by Jenifer Mizen