LU Grad Finds Success As the First African American to Obtain Ph.D. in Chemistry from UTA | Langston University

LU Grad Finds Success As the First African American to Obtain Ph.D. in Chemistry from UTA

LU Grad Finds Success As the First African American to Obtain Ph.D. in Chemistry from UTA

By Mary Zaragoza, M.S. Ed., Communications and Special Projects Coordinator

LANGSTON, OKLAHOMA - Lindsay Davis is a Langston alum from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma who is currently in the final months of her Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Texas in Arlington. Lindsay has not only broken barriers for herself but will break a new barrier by being the first African American to graduate with a Ph.D. in chemistry in program history. We sat down with Lindsay to take a deeper look into how Langston impacted her course of success, what her future holds and what she wants young people of color to take away from her experience.

Davis came to find Langston because of tradition; her mom, aunt, and sister all attended Langston. Davis always looked at Langston as a possibility but never practical until she was offered the McCabe Scholarship. “Being offered that scholarship really sealed the deal for me,” Davis said.

Davis shared that mentors played a huge role in her academia, even if she didn’t know it at the time. “These people just invested in me,” Davis states, “and they spent so much time helping me find opportunities, so I just want to give back to others. That’s how we keep the cycle going, that’s how we pull each other up.” Davis worked closely with Dr. Alonzo Peterson and Dr. John Coleman during her time at Langston. She recalls meeting them in the eighth grade through the Math and Science academy. “I was so excited to go to the Math and Science academy every summer,” Davis exclaims, “I went each summer that I could.” From there she went on to the bridge program which is where she was first introduced to Chemistry. “He (Dr. Coleman) recognized that I was pretty strong mathematically and that I had a general interest in chemistry,” Davis shares. “he introduced me even further so I wouldn’t be interested in anything else.” From then on Davis was filled with confidence and encouragement to pursue a passionate career in chemistry.

When talking about struggles in her journey, Davis says that she was most challenged and taken back by the rigor. Unlike her previous research experience, this was a new kind of dedication. Internships played a large role in preparing Davis for the demands and obligations of her program. Davis said that each summer she obtained internships, each with different roles in Chemistry and that she’s glad she did, it would have been more difficult had she not spent her summers learning. Another struggle Davis spoke of was often being looked over. In the male-dominated field, Davis experienced isolation and not only had to shine as a minority but a female minority. “We need more people to do it… We need people that look like us to do these things,” Davis says, “Ultimately you never know who you can inspire just by existing.”

Davis says that attending an HBCU was the best decision she made when it came to her education. She thinks everyone should attend an HBCU, “transitioning to a PWI has been kind of hard because not everyone Is as embracing to minorities… at an HBCU there is a greater sense of family and intimacy amongst peers and faculty.” Although Davis’ program is diverse with both international and domestic students, she says there’s nothing like that HBCU bond.

The College of Science, Black Graduate Student Association is an organization that Davis help found at UTA. Isolation played a huge role in her first few years in graduate school but after founding the organization, she has met many more black students in science. She now feels as though she has a sense of community. Davis shares how through the association, she met another black female interested in chemistry. She ended up joining Davis’ lab and will be the second African American to complete the program in school history. Had she not created the organization, she would not have a new friend and peer. Laughing, Davis shared that some of her biggest inspirations are actually black women in STEM on Twitter. “They’re just hiding on Twitter apparently,” Davis says, “I’ve now been able to connect to these women.” Since the YouTube story has been released, Davis says that not only has she received messages and notes of encouragement and celebration, but also offers of mentorship and guidance from other black women in STEM. “They’re professors and where I want to be. This opportunity has opened so many doors for me. I’m grateful for that,” Davis shares.

When asked about how she has stayed motivated for the past six years, her answer was simple. “For the first part of grad school, I was motivated by the fear of going home. I was too prideful, but towards the later part it was my son. Having my son really changed me and motivated me because not only am I changing my life, I’m changing his life. I want my son to grow up and think of college as a norm, I want him to say he’s going to college,” she answered. “As a woman it was hard, but I’m also a mother. I technically have two full-time jobs. I work during the day and I also take of my son.” One of her favorite things to do with her son is adventure days. They go on walks; they go to the zoo and they often spend time in the lab so their son can be surrounded by the possibilities of the future. Davis shares how her boss, professors, and peers were supportive and understanding of her role as a mother. They allowed her to bring her newborn son to class often while he was a newborn.

Davis says she has many other interests than just chemistry. She enjoys dressing up, DIY projects, and listening to podcasts. Comedy podcasts, political ones, inspirational talks, and of course chemistry are just the tip of the iceberg for Davis, she hopes to one day start her own podcast so others can hear her story and be inspired to chase their goals.

Davis began to get emotional as we discussed what it meant for her to be looked at as an inspiration to others. “To be someone’s inspiration is unreal because you don’t understand the impact you can make on someone,” Davis said. “I just feel so honored. Being a black woman in my department is… weird.” She shares that to finally receive recognition after so often getting looked over is such a blessing. “So many people didn’t want to work with me or help me and now that I’m here I’m just so grateful,” Davis says her journey has been difficult, but that she wouldn’t necessarily change anything about it. It has molded her into the student, researcher, and mother she is today. “I just want people to know that no matter what happens, you just have to push through,” Davis says. “Personal problems, family issues, stress, a job, they all need to be pushed through. I come back every day no matter what. I come back and keep going.”

Before closing Davis recalls a pivotal time in her journey, “I remember my very first exam (in graduate school). I got a 34%. I failed the exam; I was at the bottom and now I’m here. That’s a part of my story, my testimony. I want people to know that it wasn’t always easy and sometimes it won’t be but if you keep pushing through you can do it.”

When asked about her plans after graduation, Davis says she wants to complete her postdoc so she can be a professor and conduct research. “Wherever I go I want to make an impact. That’s the most important thing.”

Davis is scheduled to walk the stage with her Ph.D. in Chemistry in August 2021.