College Beat: Empowering Latinas to Pursue their Passions through STEM

By Kendra Prutton
Toxicology Ph.D. Student / Science Communicator
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

What do you picture when you think of a “scientist”? Not just a white lab coat – WHO do you picture wearing that white lab coat? I will be the first to admit that I was surprised when I first became immersed in the scientific community – all shapes, all sizes, all genders, all colors! Science is diverse, and not only the subject matter, but the people researching it. Diverse passions, hobbies, interests, cultures, creative outlets, you name it! What we do have in common, is the desire to not only contribute, but truly dedicate our lives to something bigger than ourselves – science!

As a child, I never once thought of science or research as “what I wanted to do when I grow up” – would this be different if I had been exposed to science as a career or had an encounter with a scientist that looked like me at a younger age? I believe that the most powerful and effective means of encouraging young Latinas to pursue and succeed in STEM is to lead, represent, and prove. I choose to establish myself as a scientist in the community to show others that Latinas are capable. Latinas are powerful. Latinas are influential. Being present and proving myself as not a scientist, but a Latina, adds value to the current and future professional and academic environments for everyone.

One community engagement that stands out in my academic career, is when I volunteered to judge the Denver District Public School Science Fair. I believe that this experience exposed me, a Latina and scientist, to hundreds of students who were able to see me, my gender, my ethnicity, and acknowledge my credits to judge their science fair poster. Every child I interacted with, could see me, my role in the science fair, and know that they too, can become a scientist (if they want to), because they were able to see with their own eyes what a scientist looks like! Seeing is believing – I am proud to tell people I am a research scientist and a Latina – most of them are surprised. Why? I look like a scientist!

We need to change the perception of who a scientist is or isn’t and truly advertise science as the welcoming, inclusive, and accessible environment it is! Sure, it will take getting comfortable being uncomfortable, pushing past stereotypes, and hard work to achieve success but when you get there – you can look in the mirror and say, “I earned it”, and lend your helping hand to those women and men who are looking for a role model just like you! Latinas are un-frameable. She is more than the oversimplified image or idea of a Latina. I believe that if we continue to bring our unique perspective, honest work ethic, and earned achievements to the table, we will never be refused a seat.

 

Kendra smiling in the lab, even under a mask, Fall 2020.

Kendra Prutton at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Spring 2019.

Kendra always has a smile on while in the lab, Fall 2019.

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