In Conversation with the CEO

Dr. Eugenia Duodu, Executive Director and CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning was recently invited to speak at a TEDxYouth event in Toronto. In her talk, she shares her journey of becoming "an unlikely scientist", what it was like growing up with few role models that looked like her and the crippling imposter syndrome that accompanied being underrepresented in the field of STEM.

“You’re a scientist? You don’t look like one!”

It was really hard to see myself as a scientist without having any representative role models to look up to or hear from. As I mentioned, I really enjoyed science but I didn’t have any point of reference to encourage my future participation. None of the traditional stereotypes of scientists fit in with who I was- a black woman (then girl) growing up in a low-income community. I definitely didn’t fit in with the common narrative, but I believe this is slowly changing.

What does it mean to you to be a black woman in STEM?

Being a black woman in STEM means many things to me. I love the fact that I get to bring my unique perspectives and experience to the field and make meaningful contributions. I am also highly aware of the various complexities that come with the intersectionality of my race and gender. Overall, what matters to me most is allowing myself to be seen so that I can be the representative role model that I never had but so desperately needed. I love being able to elevate the people around me in this way, it’s truly an honour.

What ultimately drew you to wanting to lead Visions of Science?

I could write an essay on this but I’ll keep it brief. The fundamental concept behind the work of Visions of Science was always a lofty goal for me growing up. As I became more engaged in STEM and received access to opportunities, the community-centered part of me always wondered how this might be extended to the people around me. I never really knew how it would happen but I knew that it needed to and that the work needed to come from within the community. I struggled with feeling empowered to even lead something like this because I was still navigating the system as a low-income youth myself. When I started with VoS and the opportunity came for me to lead it I really felt encouraged to continue because of the youth that we worked with and the team that we had. It was the undeniable potential in every facet of the organization what made me really know I had to be a part of it.

What do you want youth that participate in VoS programs to take away from their time here?

I want youth that participate in our programs to feel empowered to participate and succeed in any area that they decide to pursue. For me, empowerment isn’t only a term, it is intentional support that facilitates meaningful change. I want our youth to know that they can succeed and have the consistent support and access to do so. I also want our youth to be empowered to create solutions to address issues that they see affecting their community and the people around them. Our youth are full of great ideas, therefore they should have the space and confidence to put them into practice. I think it’s super cool that STEM learning can facilitate this kind of critical thinking and exploration and I want them to see that.

Watch Dr. Eugenia Duodu's TEDx Talk: