United States News Alabama ASU professor pushes for more Black students in STEM...

ASU professor pushes for more Black students in STEM programs

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Alabama State University biologist Michelle Samuel-Foo is used to standing out.  

At the University of Georgia in 2004, she was one of only two students of color in the entomology department where she studied how insects impact the environment.

She didn’t let that blunt her aspirations.  

Alabama State University professor Michelle Samuel-Foo at the Alabama State University teaching and research garden on the ASU campus in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday October 16, 2020.

In March, her colleagues at the Southeastern Entomological Society of America nominated her as president, making Samuel-Foo the first Black woman to assume leadership of the branch in the body’s 130-year history. ESA is the world’s largest professional organization of entomologists. 

In June, she became the first Black female entomologist to receive ESA’s Founders’ Memorial Award, one of its highest national honors. She is only the sixth woman to receive the recognition.

While her achievements are numerous, Black representation in the field leaves much to be desired. Black entomologists account for less than 3% of ESA’s membership according to last year’s figures. Samuel-Foo hopes to change that. 

Insects in the Alabama State University teaching garden on the ASU campus in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday October 16, 2020.

“When I was in graduate school … every class that I took I stood out,” she said. “But I used that to my advantage. I didn’t fall back into the shadows because I was the only one that looked like me in the room. I used it to build relationships with my professors.” They’re now her peers, she is quick to note.  

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