By BGN Guest Contributor Jahkotta Lewis

I am hopeful about the future. I am optimistic that the men and women who have inherited this crazy messed up world have the passion and the drive to make a difference. In this STEM series, I set out to highlight the everyday narratives of people of color who have dedicated their lives to their respective fields. I was fortunate enough to meet some fascinating folks, from an entomologist to Indigenous scientists; it was an inspiring experience.

In the final chapter of The Color of Science BGN series, we introduce two young women who are just beginning their careers and have a real passion for what they do. Sasha Weise is a forensic specialist with a background in medical anthropology, while Nicole Galase has her eyes turned skyward as she keeps tabs on endangered seabirds that nest within the majestic volcanoes of The Pacific. The passion of these two scientists shine through in their interviews, and you can’t help but think that they are meant to do great things.

Color of Science—SashaThe Forensic Specialist

Name: Sasha Weise

Occupation: Criminalist – Forensic Specialist

Where are you from?

Originally born in Jamaica W.I., Brooklyn since I was 12.

What are your hobbies?

I love going to museums; I’m on a mission to visit a museum in every state/country I visit. I enjoy lectures, anything science or anthropology related, spending hours in Barnes and Noble, etc.

Tell us something nerdy about yourself.

I have my DVR set to record every single episode of River Monsters and Monsters Inside Me. I binge-watch them in one sitting, then google academic articles on the things mentioned to the point where I sound like an expert in freshwater fish.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood. Were you always drawn to the sciences?

In a way, I was. As a kid, I would always tell my mom I was going to become a research scientist. I have no idea where I got it from, but turns out I’m psychic because the research is my favorite part.

What is your education background? What degree(s) or training do you have?

I have a B.A in Anthropology (double minor in forensic science and medical anthropology); a Masters in Forensic Science and a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Firearms and Toolmark Examination.

What inspired you to choose your field of study?

Initially, I majored in mechanical engineering. I thought I would change the world with artificial intelligence, but at 19, I couldn’t even change the mind of my advisor that I was a capable student. Eventually, I switched and realized I had an interest in forensic science but at my school, you had to major in something else to do forensics, and I wasn’t holding my own in chemistry like I did in high school. So, I went to anthropology because I also enjoyed observing people, and discovered forensic anthropology and knew that I was where I’m meant to be.

Who do you look up to in your field?

Right now, there isn’t someone in any of my fields that I look up to, mainly because I’m having a hard time finding the stories of women of color. My field is largely women but still painfully white.

Please describe a typical work day in your field.

Currently, as a criminalist, I focus on identification for the Medical Examiner’s Office. It’s partly my role to make sure the people in our possession are who they’re supposed to be before they’re released and buried.

What are some of the challenges as a person of color that you run into in your field (if any)?

While I’m still young and may not have the full experience of many seasoned women in my field, for me it’s the same as going through school and having to prove over and over that you’re just as good or that you belong here, or that you might have an idea about what you’re talking about.

What is the coolest aspect of your job?

Cool to me, weird to some but I love how much the body can speak after death. It’s weird to say, but I’m always amazed at the things we learn from bones and anatomy overall.

How do you feel about how this Administration is dealing with environmental issues?

It’s terrifying. Environmental science is probably one of my weaker points, but even I know and acknowledge that we need this planet more than it needs us.

What advice would you like to give to young people of color with interest in the sciences?

Ask for help. A lot of my issues would not have been as dramatic as they got had I sought out help from anywhere I could. Also, create a network, find friends who make you proud to be who you are and encourage you to push forward. It’s hard in this world alone, especially when you’re a black woman in STEM, probably the only one in your department and someone in the office is trying you.

Color of Science—NicoleThe Seabird Conservationist

Name: Nicole Galase

Occupation: Wildlife Biologist- Seabird Project Leader for the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands

Where are you from?

Honolulu, Hawaii

What are your hobbies?

My hobbies range from cooking for friends at home to exploring the world through hiking and bow hunting.

Tell us something nerdy about yourself?

My first ever “research paper” was self-assigned as a 7-year-old. I read a few kids nature magazines and wrote a paper on the humpback whale.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood. Were you always drawn to the sciences?

I knew I wanted to be a Marine Biologist at a young age, thanks to watching Jacques Cousteau shows before dinner. My parents let my siblings and I explore the backyard and took us to the beach often. It was the outdoors that pushed me to wonder, “how does this all work?” As I grew up and learned more along the way, I always appreciated that science was methodical as well as mysterious.

What is your education background? What degree(s) or training do you have?

I have a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management with a Marine Option Program Certificate from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and I went to New Zealand to obtain my Master of Marine Conservation from Victoria University of Wellington.

What inspired you to choose your field of study?

My parents let us watch a lot of nature shows and kept our bookshelf full of wildlife books and magazines. I decided I wanted a job that felt more like adventuring.

Who do you look up to in your field?

There are a lot of people that I respect in the field of seabird research. I really appreciate the willingness of researchers to provide knowledge and tips for my project, even if they don’t know me personally. I am very young in my career, and try to take advantage of opportunities to call on the expertise and experience of my colleagues.

Please describe a typical work day in your field.

It’s tough to pick a typical work day since my job is varied. One day I could be sitting in the office writing and analyzing data, another day I could be over an hour away from my office and hiking 11km over lava fields with a detector dog in search of seabird nests. Other days, it’s nights that I work. Since the seabirds I study only visit their colony at night, I need to adapt to them and survey them at night with night vision goggles, near infrared light, and many many layers of clothes to survive the drop in temperature and gusts of wind that accompany the nocturnal life.

What are some of the challenges as a person of color that you run into in your field (if any)?

Perhaps it’s because I have spent my career thus far in Hawaii where minorities are prevalent, but I don’t feel that I have run into many challenges as a Filipino-American. I do, however, recall several times when I was underestimated because I am a woman. Luckily, I proved myself each time and walked away feeling more accomplished than marginalized.

What is the coolest aspect of your job?

I like that I am able to get creative and utilize novel ways to study my species. The Band-rumped Storm Petrel is very secretive, and I often feel like a detective more than a scientist.

How do you feel about how this Administration is dealing with environmental issues?

It’s scary to think of how the conservation field may change, but it won’t stop me from continuing to do as much productive work as I can, whether through a government agency, non-profit organization, or just as a hobby.

What advice would you like to give to young people of color with interest in the sciences?

Keep working towards it and let your good work speak for itself. Even if you think there are barriers to your success, work through them because you’ll be more disappointed if you don’t try anyways.

If you missed the previous installments of this series, have no fear! Check out the links below to read about people of color in STEM with backgrounds in entomology, environmental conservation, landscape architecture, and Indigenous science.
Part I: The Color of Science
Part II: The Color of Science: Empowerment
Part III: The Color of Science is Indigenous

Color of Science—JahkottaJahkotta Lewis is a professional archaeologist, an amateur astronomer, and an aspiring writer. When she is not documenting Pacific Island archaeology, she spends her days hiking through native forests, spelunking within the depths of an active volcano, and watching/reading all things fantasy and science fiction. Follow her on Twitter @jahkotta

 

 

 

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