The ‘Beauty of What It Means to be Excellent Black Women’ in STEM: Ginkgo Bioworkers at STEMNoire

Sponsored by Ginkgo Bioworks

Speaking at STEMNoire. Photos courtesy of Ginkgo Bioworks.

Speaking at STEMNoire. Photos courtesy of Ginkgo Bioworks.

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While Black women remain underrepresented in STEM, Kilan Ashad-Bishop, PhD, is one of the many people who is working hard to change this lack of representation. But how is she doing this? 

Well, Ashad-Bishop is the Co-Founder of STEMNoire, a first-of-its-kind “research and wellness community for Black women and non-binary people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM),” she explains. “Through events such as our annual conference and monthly seminars, we built STEMNoire to convene Black women and non-binary people in STEM to foster community, facilitate collaboration, and enhance personal and professional outcomes.” This intentionally curated space uplifts the contributions of Black women and non-binary folks to the past, present, and future of STEM fields.

Throughout the year, STEMNoire provides holistic virtual programming, which includes mental, physical, emotional, and financial wellness, as well as professional development such as career exploration and transferable skill-building. There’s also an in-person STEMNoire conference, which Ashad-Bishop tells us “integrates many of these same pillars while also including research poster presentations and talks that allow for feedback and further innovation.”

And who are the people involved in STEMNoire? Ashad-Bishop shares that their audience has an approximately 60/40 split between trainees (i.e., undergraduate students, masters students , doctoral students, and postdocs) and professionals (i.e., faculty or those working in industry, policy, government, or nonprofit STEM careers). “Our largest constituency is Black women and non-binary people in graduate STEM education earning doctoral degrees,” she continues. Most of these participants are based in the U.S., but STEMNoire also serves a global audience, including women in Canada and the UK, as well as several countries in Africa and Asia.

The STEMNoire 2023 conference.

To learn more about the positive results of STEMNoire’s work, we reached out to a few former conference participants who work at Ginkgo Bioworks, which is a participant, supporter, collaborator, and sponsor of STEMNoire’s work and events. Here’s what they had to say about the STEMNoire 2023 conference!

Group photo at The STEMNoire 2023. Photo courtesy of Ginkgo Bioworks.

Cornishia Cherrie, Team Lead HTS Ops & Assay Dev, Senior Test Engineer II

The journey… Motivation… Focus… Drive…

As I maneuvered my way through my career, I realized that there was one thing keeping me focussed on my goal to succeed: dismissing distractions along the way that promote failure (things and people). The STEMNoire conference was an affirmation of my dedication to succeed in STEM, and I am honored to have been one of three people present representing Ginkgo Bioworks.

During the conference, I learned from some amazing women on how they manage their lives and the businesses they support and that we all have had a similar journey balancing on a tightrope. There was so much more, but the key areas of interests for me were:

  1. Engineering Real Value (from a fellow Tuskegee Alum), which focussed on leadership, productivity, and performance.

  2. Building Your Village: Developing & Leveraging a Professional Support System Throughout Your STEM Career. 

  3. Health and Wellness. 

  4. The variety of scientific posters during the poster session. These directly impacted the direction of my career and are relevant to what I am currently doing at Ginkgo.

Mariah Fossella, Senior Manager in Omics and Analytical Chemistry

I had the pleasure of attending the first STEMNoire in-person research conference and holistic wellness retreat for women of the African diaspora in STEM in June 2023. 

During the three-day conference, I was introduced to an organization whose impact goes far beyond the physical conference to create a global network and community. I made meaningful connections with women across all fields of STEM, got to hear about their exciting research, found potential for collaboration, and learned valuable tools for career development. 

It is amazing what a safe, inclusive space can do for mental health, confidence, and career drive. The welcoming environment and encouragement re-energized me to return to Ginkgo and continue to expand the community in Boston to bring new opportunities and experiences to the Black/African American/Afro-X community.

Shelley Gatlin, Senior Executive Assistant

Having a non-scientific role and attending a STEM conference full of highly accomplished women, I was initially intimidated. My first thought was “what could I offer or receive from this group that would really add value?” However, this conference was so much more than titles, degrees, or ego. It was truly a gathering of beautifully intellectual minds who understood on a very real scale the bias, the hurt, the unwillingness to succumb to less than, and the beauty of what it means to be excellent Black women in this industry. 

Not only was I able to experience the brilliance of so many talented women, I was also given a glimpse into the future cohorts of many more brilliant female scientists to come. STEMNoire is a conference that embodies more than just science; it gives the good, the bad and the ugly — embracing all of that and showing Black women how each of us can lift one another up and turn those things into beauty and greatness! I arrived intimidated, and left empowered and recharged! It is certainly an event that I will attend again, and I will continue to encourage my network to attend as well.

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