A SEAT AT THE TABLE

Who’s got next? The winners of our OLAY x HBCU STEM Queens contest, of course! These 10 dynamic and beautiful minds are confirmation that the future is indeed young, Black, and female!

Story by S. Tia Brown
Photography by Keith Major

Look for the EBONY x OLAY commemorative print issue at all Barnes & Noble, select Target and HBCU stores, and retail chains nationwide on now.

alena-analeigh-wicker
This photo: Alena wears a Dolce & Gabbana dress, Kate Spade earrings, 51 E John necklace, By Lolita ring, 51 E John ring, and Converse sneakers. Group photo: Alena wears a Steele suit, Sergio Hudson turtleneck, By Lolita earrings, and Stuart Weitzman shoes.

ALENA “ANALEIGH” WICKER

AGE: 13 | HOMETOWN: DALLAS
SCHOOL: OAKWOOD UNIVERSITY | MAJOR: BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
YEAR: SOPHOMORE | STEM GOAL: CARDIOTHORACIC SURGEON

Why I STEM: “I’ve always thought, Why can’t girls of
color do STEM and pursue jobs in STEM like others? I’ve always believed that girls of color can do anything in STEM that they put their minds to, so I created the Brown STEM Girl to give STEM opportunities to girls of color.”

Wow Achievement: Getting into college at age 12

Bookmark: Author of Brainiac World: 21 Days of Affirmations for Smart Girls

STEM Flex: Being the youngest person to intern at NASA

Favorite Hobby: Singing

Best Advice Ever Received: “Never give up. The sky isn’t the limit.”

Skin Hack: A clean face

Why She Admires Mathematician Katherine Johnson: “I love how she put her mind to something, and even though [she was told] she couldn’t do things that she knew she could, she kept going.”

I’ve always believed that girls of color can do anything in STEM that they put their minds to, so I created the Brown STEM Girl to give STEM opportunities to girls of color.

KIRSTEN MCGOWAN

AGE: 21 | HOMETOWN: CHICAGO SCHOOL: XAVIER UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA | MAJOR: PHARMACY
YEAR: DOCTOR OF PHARMACY (PHARM.D.) CANDIDATE | STEM GOAL: PEDIATRIC CLINICAL PHARMACIST

Why I STEM: “Growing up, I always knew that I would be a doctor. I vividly remember walking around with a stetho-scope in my hand, saying, ‘I want to be a pedestrian (pediatrician).’ ”

HBCU Advantage: “At Xavier, we are not just numbers. We are stakeholders investing thousands of dollars into our education. Therefore, our university is dedicated to pouring just as much into us.”

STEM Flex: “While interning at the University of Missouri-Columbia a few years ago, I contributed to the fluorescent staining protocol for muscle cells in mice models. I worked relentlessly to find antibodies and staining materials to perfectly stain each muscle. The postdoctoral student I worked under and I were able to finalize a protocol that the lab would use moving forward.”

Beauty Code: “Whipped shea butter has saved my life. I’ve used it since I was about 13 years old.”

This photo: Kirsten wears an Alexander Wang shirt, Ellaé Lisqué skirt, Nadri earrings, and Nadri ring. Group photo: Kirsten wears a Banana Republic x Harbison dress, Kendra Scott earrings, By Lolita rings, and Schutz shoes.

Growing up, I always knew that I would be a doctor.
I vividly remember walking around with a stethoscope in my hand, saying, ‘I want to be a pedestrian (pediatrician).

This photo: Jamirra wears a Vivienne Westwood dress, Calvin Klein shirt, Shedean Jewelz ring, and Jordan x Aleali May sneakers. Group photo: Jamirra wears a Sans Souci suit, Naked Wardrobe T-shirt, Sister Love earrings, and Jennifer Le shoes.

JAMIRRA FRANKLIN

AGE: 22 | HOMETOWN: PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD | SCHOOL: SPELMAN COLLEGE | MAJOR: HEALTH SCIENCE | YEAR: SENIOR | STEM GOAL: PHYSICIAN-SCIENTIST

Why I STEM: “I STEM because women’s health is extremely important to me and I want to be a change agent in the health field. Growing up, I witnessed both of my grandmothers battle breast cancer and it really affected our whole family.  I believe we need to increase the representation of Black women in STEM, especially in the medical field, so that we can achieve health equity.”

Notable Accomplishment: “I’m the first woman in my family to go away to college and [pursue] STEM.” 

Favorite Black Female STEM Character: “This may sound a little corny, but Doc McStuffins. I think having that representation at a young age was really important. Growing up, I never saw a Black doctor on TV.”

Black Woman STEM Role Model: “Dr. Dorothy Brown [the South’s first Black woman surgeon, who served as chief of surgery at Nashville’s Riverside Hospital].” 

Words of Inspiration: “To all the Black girls who want to go into STEM: You can do it and you belong here, and you’re made for this.”

I witnessed both of my grandmothers battle breast cancer and it really affected our whole family.  We need to increase the representation of Black women in STEM, especially in the medical field, so that we can achieve health equity.”

DESTNEY JOHNSON

AGE: 20 | HOMETOWN: ATLANTA | SCHOOL: GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY 
MAJOR: COMPUTER INFORMATION SYSTEMS | YEAR: JUNIOR
STEM GOAL: COMPUTER ENGINEER

Favorite Software Program: EarSketch. “This is really cool because it lets you make music while coding.”

Stimulating Hobby: Doing STEM puzzles Black Woman STEM Role Model: Katherine Johnson. “She was really, really impactful for the Black community, especially in STEM.” 

Biggest STEM Assist: “Being a part of my school’s tech tour program. This is a new program that just came about in 2019. And this program is for people who are interested in majoring in STEM. We just added cybersecurity and cloud computing to our school, which is really import-ant because of the different cyber hacks.”

Best Advice Ever Received: “It’s OK to fail, but it’s never OK to quit.”

Hair Hack: “Aloe vera has magnesium and [nutrients] that are good for your hair. So if you want shiny and bouncy hair, it’s really good.”

This photo: Destney wears a Topshop shirt, Balenciaga skirt, Nordstrom earrings, By Lolita rings, and Nike sneakers. Group photo: Destney wears an Ellaé Lisqué top and skirt, Sister Love earrings, By Lolita necklace, and Christian Louboutin shoes.

The best advice I ever received: ‘It’s OK to fail, but it’s never OK to quit.’

ESTHER NWOZO

AGE: 21 | HOMETOWN: NASHVILLE | SCHOOL: HOWARD UNIVERSITY | MAJOR: BIOLOGY
YEAR: SENIOR | STEM GOAL: PHYSICIAN

Why I STEM: “My ultimate career goal is to become a physician…. I think it’s important for people to see that there are Black physicians who are advocating for them. I want to open my own practice serving people who are underserved and underrepresented in
my community.”  

Parental Guidance: “My dad is a physician, and my mom [a mother of eight] is a nurse practitioner [with] a home health company. Ever since I was young, I just started getting involved in her company servicing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” 

Black Women in STEM Matter: “Black women in history are always change agents, changemakers. We’re the people who advocate; we’re the people who also nurture. We have just so much ability and so much talent that we can utilize to really make an impact.” 

How Howard Supports My STEM Dreams: “By giving me community.”

Skin Hack: Moisturizing

This photo: Esther wears a Harbison dress, Re/Done cardigan, By Lolita earrings, Jeffrey Campbell boots, and her own necklace. Group photo: Esther wears a Sergio Hudson jumpsuit, House of Emmanuele earrings, By Lolita ring, and Giuseppe Zanotti shoes.

Black women in history are always change agents, changemakers. We’re the people who advocate; we’re the people who also nurture.

This photo: Alexis wrears a Versace suit, Calvin Klein T-shirt, and Sister Love eearrings. Group photo: Alexis wears a Rowen Rose dress, Sister Love earrings, and Jessica Rich shoes.

ALEXIS VAN ZANDT

AGE: 23 | HOMETOWN: DALLAS | SCHOOL: PRAIRIE VIEW A&M UNIVERSITY | MAJOR: BIOLOGY
YEAR: SENIOR | STEM GOAL: CARDIOTHORACIC SURGEON

Why I STEM: “Originally, I wanted to be a lawyer because I just don’t like inequality, but I had a grandmother, my mom’s mom, and she passed away…. I feel her [poor] treatment played a role in her untimely death, and that pushed me to enter into the medical or STEM field.” 

Why We Must Close the STEM Gap: “It’s critical that we put ourselves in positions to increase our numbers in these fields so that girls younger than us can look up to someone who looks like them.” 

And Still I Rise: “Many times, we didn’t have a house. Even in college, when I would go home on breaks, we’d sleep in the car. And I still did what I had to do. I still maintained my GPA.” 

Favorite Hobbies: Playing video games, reading manga, and watching Korean dramas and anime

Many times, we didn’t have a house. Even in college, when I would go home on breaks, we’d sleep in the car. And I still did what I had to do. I still maintained my GPA.

SHIA GOURDET

AGE: 19 | HOMETOWN: SMYRNA, GA | SCHOOL: FORT VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY | MAJOR: MATH AND ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING | YEAR: JUNIOR | STEM GOAL: ROBOTICS ENGINEER 

Why I STEM: “I was part of a precollegiate program [at my college], where I was introduced to STEM.”

STEM Is for the Kids: “This past summer, I did a math internship with the Clayton County school board [in the Atlanta metro area] and worked with middle schoolers and helped them get introduced to STEM fields.”

Why We Must STEM: “There are not many Black people in STEM, especially Black women. So it’s definitely important for us to be part of the field so that we can have more diversity and input.” 

Treasured Advice From Mom: “You aren’t in control. The only person in control is God. So what happens, happens.” 

Favorite Hobbies: Listening to music, traveling, and roller skating

Hair Hack: Oiling the scalp to maintain growth and strength

This photo: Shia wears a Nadya Dzyak dress, Kate Spade earrings, and Urban Outfitters boots. Group photo : Shia wears an Alice + Olivia suit, Calvin Klein shirt, Nordstrom earrings, and Schutz shoes.

There are not many Black people in STEM, especially Black women. So it’s definitely important for us to be part of the field so that we can have more diversity and input.

This photo: Nadine wears a Sergio Hudson dress, Sister Love earrings, By Lolita rings, and Nike x Comme des Garçons sneakers. Group photo: Nadine wears a Banana Republic x Harbison dress, House of Emmanuele earrings, D’Orazio rings, 51 E John bracelet, and Steve Madden boots.

NADINE ABAZIE

AGE: 19 | HOMETOWN: HOUSTON SCHOOL: HOWARD UNIVERSITY | MAJOR: BIOLOGY | YEAR: FRESHMAN STEM GOAL: ANESTHESIOLOGIST

Black Woman STEM Role Model: “My mom. She is a nurse. She has worked so hard to get to where she is. She’s currently in school trying to better her career. And she still works.”

Why Black Women in STEM Matter: “It’s nice for girls out there to know that they can achieve their goals even in a field dominated by other people.”

Surprising Talent: “People are shocked when they see that I can actually draw really well.” 

Why She Likes Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) on black-ish: “She’s an anesthe-siologist [who] seems to be really advanced in her career, and she enjoys her job too.” 

Hair Hack: “For girls with 4C hair: After your conditioning, cover your hair in some sort of wrap or a bag so that it steams and the conditioner really enters the hair shaft, and then you can rinse it off after 30 minutes to an hour. [This] really moisturizes it.”

It’s nice for girls out there to know that they can achieve their goals even in a field dominated by other people.

This photo: Raelyn wears an AFRM shirt, Dolce & Gabbana pants, and Sister Love earrings. Group photo: Raelyn wears a Bianca and Bridgett dress, Sister Love earrings, and Santoni shoes.

RAELYN HENDERSON

AGE: 22 | HOMETOWN: BATON ROUGE, LA | SCHOOL: SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY AND A&M COLLEGE
MAJOR: MECHANICAL ENGINEERING
YEAR: SENIOR | STEM GOAL: ENGINEERING PROFESSOR

Why I STEM: “I come from a family of engineers, and growing up, I worked inside my dad’s auto repair shop answering phones since like the age of 6. Creation and learning how things operate have always been in my blood.” 

Black Women STEM Difference: “Studies have literally shown, when [there’s] a proportional [percentage] of Black women in the workforce, improved productivity and creativity [is the result].” 

Internships Brag: Harvard, NASA (Huntsville), Bayer, and Booz Allen Hamilton

Go-To Karaoke Song: Fantasia’s “When I See U” 

Surprising Feature: “I write sideways.”

Daily Affirmation: “Never let anyone tell you that the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.

Creation and learning how things operate HAVE ALWAYS BEEN IN MY BLOOD.

This photo: Taylor wears a Sergio Hudson suit and turtleneck, 51 E John earrings and rings, and BP. boots. Group photo: Taylor wears a Dolce & Gabbana suit, House of CB corset, Sister Love earrings, and Jimmy Choo shoes.

TAYLOR JOHNSON

AGE: 18 | HOMETOWN: LITTLE ROCK, AR | SCHOOL: GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY | MAJOR: NURSING YEAR: FRESHMAN | STEM GOAL: RADIOLOGIST

Why I STEM: “My aunt is an RN, and when I was younger, I volunteered at her job, and that was the moment I knew that I loved nursing.”

Treasured Advice From Mom: “Everything is not going to come to you. You have to get up and strive for it.” 

The Grambling Advantage: “They are very hands-on…. There’s always tutoring or someone on campus to help you figure out what you need to do.” 

Favorite Brand: Jordans 

Surprising Skill: “I do hair.” 

Hair Hack: “Rice water.
[Put] rice in hot water and let it sit overnight, drain,
[pour into] a spray bottle, and spray it into your
hair. It helps to grow your hair out.”

My aunt is an RN, and when I was
younger, I volunteered at her job, and that was the moment I knew that I loved nursing.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & SVP, PROGRAMMING MARIELLE BOBO
CREATIVE DIRECTOR
RASHIDA MORGAN-BROWN
PHOTO DIRECTOR KEITH MAJOR
VIDEO
MEGA MEDIA
STYLIST
WAYMAN + MICAH
STYLIST ASSISTANT 
BRYON JAVAR
STYLIST ASSISTANT
KIMBERLY BATINO
HAIRSTYLISTS RICHARD NORMAN GRANT, JAMEES GILBERT/BRAND NEW JAMES, AND JO DIZON
MAKEUP ARTISTS RENEE LOIZ/TMG AND BRANDI DOUGLAS
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS COLIN JACOB, GIOVANNI REDA
DIGITAL TECH
KIM TRAN 
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER TRACEY WOODS
ON-SET PRODUCER
SUZE LEE
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT APU GOMES
RETOUCHER 
DIGITAL 805 RETOUCHING
MANAGING EDITOR LISA LOVERRO
EXECUTIVE EDITOR RONDA RACHA PENRICE
COPY CHIEF HOPE WRIGHT 
HBCU PROJECT MANAGER CRYSTAL HADNOTT

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