Representation paves the way for the next generation to carry the torch.
Clarice Phelps’ historic moment is a leading example for young Black girls to dream big.
Back in 2016, the nuclear chemist became the first Black woman to help discover an element — No. 117, tennessine on the periodic table — PEOPLE reports.
“Being a Black woman in science is being seen and unseen at the same time,” Phelps told PEOPLE. “People see you because you stand out, but they un-see you because they don’t think you should be there — some may not see you as being credible or worthy. But I’m supposed to be exactly where I’m at. And I’m leaving a legacy for whoever is coming next.”
Now, Phelps has joined fellow chemist and colleague Candice Halbert to teach STEM to underserved youth in Knoxville, TN. Their efforts to instill in the kids that the sky is the limit for their career choice is through Halbert’s nonprofit, YO-STEM. The ultimate mission is to expose youth to more diversity in the field, which the two hope will lead to more of the students being hired when they leave school.
“Initially I wanted to be a doctor because that’s typically what we think science jobs are when we’re young,” Halbert said. “We’re teaching kids about intellectual engineering, biochemistry. We only want to be what we know and what we see, and by exposing our youth to more diverse individuals and fields, that allows them the opportunity to want to even pursue these different careers.”
Through YO-STEM, launched in 2017, Halbert and Phelps aim to empower even more Black students by expanding to different cities.
“I hope by the time our students get to where Candice and I are today, they won’t have to go through what we’ve been through,” Phelps said.
“Because those glass ceilings will have been broken and the pieces swept away.”