Jamaican-born scientist Monique Mendes is the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Rochester.

According to Democrat & Chronicle, the 27-year-old defended her thesis this past summer and began her post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University in September, where she conducts research using novel imaging techniques to better understand how learning and memory are impacted by specific cells called glia.

“I feel empowered, I feel excited,” said Mendes. “I’m just happy that I was able to get a Ph.D. and to show other Black women that it is possible, and they can succeed.”

In sixth grade, Mendes’ teacher—a Black woman—at St. Andrew Preparatory School in Kingston inspired her love of the sciences. She went on to attend the University of Florida to study biology. There, Mendes became a McNair Scholar, a program named after Black physicist, Dr. Ronald E. McNair, which was designed to increase the number of graduate degrees awarded to students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Later, at Rochester, Mendes earned another prestigious honor: She became the first URMC graduate student to receive the F99/K00 NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience fellowship from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders in Stroke.

Despite her many achievements, one thing Mendes wished that she “had over the years was faculty that looked like me.” And since her matriculation, the university is working to retain more Black women in its science programs.

Looking forward, Mendes hopes to become a mentor.

“Be fearless, be inquisitive and follow your dreams,” she advised. “Most importantly be fearless. Advocate for yourself; advocate for others.”