Kelsey Durham, IUP
“I am just one person, part of a minority, who is excelling, becoming dominant and successful in my field.”
With all odds against her, junior chemistry major, Kiera Estes, has risen above her peers and excelled academically through doing research, working in the lab, and receiving awards and scholarships for her work. She may only be 22 credits shy of graduating but she is far from concluding her scholarly domination.
She told me that she is considered a potential “bioinorganic chemist” or a “biological chemist,” as the concentration of her research is in biological chemistry. (For those of us who might have to pause this reading to look up what biological chemistry is, let me give you a basic definition: It is looking at biology from a chemistry standpoint. These scientists look at the chemical processes within biology to figure out how things work. Pretty fancy, right?)
Kiera does an excellent job representing African-American women in her classes. She told me she is the only black girl in her math classes, such as Calc I-III, chemistry, physics and biology classes. The lack of diversity would discourage others, but in Kiera’s case it motivates her. This passion can be seen through her lab work with her mentor Dr. Avijita Jain, a bioinorganic chemistry professor at IUP.
Kiera explained to me that in the lab, she and peers synthesize their own compounds from which they observe and draw conclusions. When she first started doing research, she said that it was a challenge, as she didn’t know much about their research topic or the techniques and lingo spoken in the lab. But overtime she has come to master all of these and most recently she was featured on the Iup.edu Home Page for winning first prize in the student poster session at the National Organization for Professional Development of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers Conference.
“I just love working in the lab,” said Kiera. “I love the fact that everything is a hands-on experience. The atmosphere of the laboratory is what intrigues me the most. I love that I am always learning new things, whether it’s a technique, reasoning, or just general information.”
In the spring of 2015, Kiera was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, a post-baccalaureate achievement program that is designed to provide undergraduate students the unique opportunity to do research and it opens doors for aspiring doctoral students to reach their higher academic prospects. Kiera says being a McNair Scholar is the reason why she is pursuing a career in research, sparking her interest in going to graduate school.
“The program was very beneficial, as it introduced me to research. McNair has given me access to a copious amount of graduate schools, GRE prep essentials, waived graduate application fees, and the opportunity to present at a national conference, [where] I was able to network and meet very influential people.”
As she concludes her sixth semester at IUP, Kiera has presented at conferences such as The National McNair Conference, hosted by the University of Buffalo, Millersville’s, PASSHE STEM Conference, IUP’s Undergraduate Scholar’s Forum, IUP’s Women in STEM Poster Session and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers “NExM” Conference sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. Talk about black excellence!
Kiera is currently weighing her options for this summer, she knows that after graduation that she will continue doing research and seek more opportunities to do hands-on work in science. No matter where Kiera ends up, it can be assumed that she will make her people proud and will go down in history as an icon of black excellence in STEM.