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Dr. Yasmine Daniels is Breaking Barriers

With a great passion for science beginning as early as her teenage years, Dr. Yasmine Daniels spent many years learning about science while exploring the STEM fields. This passion followed her into adulthood and she later realized that she not only enjoyed learning about science, but she also took great interest in sharing that passion with others. Dr. Daniels obtained her B.S. in chemistry from Hunter College and her M.Phil and Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the City University of New York, Graduate Center. As a chemistry student, she was inspired and encouraged by her chemistry professors and has been dedicated ever since, to give back to students and academia.

Dr. Daniels currently works as an industrial hygienist in the area of science policy, within the U.S. federal government. She is also a chemistry adjunct professor, STEM/STEAM advocate, youth mentor and bestselling author of a children’s science book. I recently chatted with Dr. Daniels in honor of women’s month to learn more about how she’s making breakthroughs in the field of chemistry. Read all about it below!

When did you first know you wanted to be in the field of chemistry?

Unlike many chemists who may have had an early introduction to science, my experience was somewhat different. It wasn’t until college that the thought of pursuing chemistry began to manifest itself. Having been a student who consistently received good grades, both in science and mathematics, my only desire back then was to go to medical school, which had been the zenith of careers in my family. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey where I would experience a different side of science that I had not quite considered but would later take a liking to. As fate would have it, I met my college Chemistry Professor, Dr. Spiro Alexandratos, as a sophomore and grew increasingly intrigued with his passion for the subject. There were many times when I struggled with conceptualizing chemistry mechanisms, only to discover later that my perception lacked a fundamental approach. Dr. Alexandratos taught me that. There was no reaction or chemical process in his lab that was too complicated to be solved. This mindset is truly what rests at the core of his passion for chemistry – a passion so infectious that it became mine. Today, I work as an adjunct chemistry professor and as a policy scientist (industrial hygienist) within the federal government. I am dedicated to instilling a similar outlook on chemistry to my students as well as in my role as a science communicator to agency and government officials.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Having spent a few years teaching chemistry, working as a bench chemist and in law enforcement, I realize that all these experiences have one thing in common. They allowed me to make genuine connections with individuals who have either gone on to pursue careers in chemistry or have walked away more knowledge about a particular area of chemistry that fell within my expertise. That, to me, is a moment of pride. The ability to increase interest in a field of study like chemistry and to inspire and educate an emerging generation of students and professionals, has been one of the most rewarding outcomes of my career.

What are your thoughts on the Black in Chem movement and how do you hope the industry can move forward in addressing diversity?

The call to highlight diversity and to advocate for representation, particularly in the field of chemistry, isn’t new. Black people have not been equitably represented in this field and this mirrors a distribution of Black representation across the broader channels of STEM. Because colleges and universities play such a vital role in molding novices into professionals, it goes without saying that these same institutions need to emphasize and highlight diversity within their respective programs and to adapt programs that support these types of students. The more represented Black students feel within the field of chemistry, the more willing they become to pursue that subject area. Being Black in Chem relies heavily on their academic experience. As a student growing up in New York City, I was somewhat fortunate to be exposed to diversity both within my community and at the City University of New York – Hunter College, where I was a chemistry student. Still, I sought academic refuge in groups that provided support to minority students within the sciences. If not for that support, I may not have had the capacity to withstand many of the challenges that obstructed my chemistry path As an adjunct chemistry professor today, I take time to tailor my instruction to support my students’ needs. At the beginning of the semester, I like to engage in an exercise where I sit among the students before class begins. The students are almost always surprised to learn, moments later, that I am their professor, as I eventually make my way to the front of the classroom. I conduct this little experiment to incite the thought and perhaps solidify their beliefs that a chemistry professor could also be a Black woman.

What are some papers you’ve had featured in ACS Publications journals?

My publications with ACS Publications journals include the following:

Modification of Hydroxyapatite with Ion-Selective Complexants: 1-Hydroxyethane-1,1-diphosphonic Acid
Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research 2015 54 (2), 585-596
DOI: 10.1021/ie504181z

Development of a Cigarette Tobacco Filler Standard Reference Material
Analytical Chemistry 2017 89 (19), 10461-10467
DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.7b02550

I also contributed to ACS annual meetings in the following proceedings:

Synthesis, Characterization and Metal Ion Sorption of Modified Hydroxyapatite

Synthesis of Modified Hydroxyapatite (HAP) and its Effect on Metal Ion Sorption

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to enter the field of chemistry?

A person cannot go into chemistry if they believe any bad rumors about the field.  My advice would be to rid oneself of all preconceptions that chemistry is hard, for geeks, or only for men.  These are only a few of the things that I have heard over the years.  Those who truly want to experience the joy of chemistry must allow themselves the freedom to develop their own fundamental understanding of the subject.  Since chemistry is in everything around us, the more we begin to understand what chemistry is, the better we can understand the world.

Why was it important to you to write a children’s book focused on STEAM?

As a woman in chemistry, I understood firsthand what it was like being a little girl who had doubts about being successful in the sciences or feeling incongruous in the heavily male-dominated Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) fields.  Additionally, the limited numbers of black and brown faces that I saw pursuing chemistry discouraged me.  Today, I serve as a youth mentor to young, Black girls with the hope that I may provide to them with valuable guidance in their pursuit of success.  In the Fall of 2020, I launched a virtual youth mentoring program, realizing the importance of continuing to support youth, particularly during a time when they may have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of reduced face-to-face instruction and also during a time in which horrific images and videos of racial inequality flooded social media and new platforms.  My goal was to continue to inspire youth to be great and to amplify their voices of excellence, both within and outside of STEAM.  As a science educator, it has always been important to me to find and to provide resources to students that would encourage them and inspire new generations of scientists.  More than that, it is my earnest belief that Black children deserve an opportunity to see themselves in more STEAM roles and in more STEAM books.  My recently published children’s book, “Building My Self-eSTEAM in Science,” harmonizes my efforts to mentor, nurture and educate youth, particularly as it relates to STEAM.  In it, I show the reader how friendship, creativity and teamwork all play a role in empowering youth to excel in STEAM. Within weeks of being released, the book made its way to three of Amazon’s best-selling categories in STEAM: Children’s Engineering Books, Children’s Computer Hardware and Robotics Books, and Children’s Math Fiction.

The book has since catalyzed interest in STEAM across multiple age groups.  I am happy to have had the opportunity to provide both a timely and a timeless resource to youth, during a time when Black children are in dire need of support and for generations coming after me as they consider pursuing careers in STEAM.

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