What’s Your Why?


I am fortunate to have worked in spaces that allow me to mentor and support the amazing journeys of youth scholars, activists, thought leaders, and seekers.

Last week I spent a few days sharing career advice with undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs.  In one of the sessions, I shared a small vignett of my educational journey. I realized that in preparing to do so (as in times past), it brought up uncomfortable memories. I could be angry and point fingers, but what I have chosen to do is to help those coming behind me. I also realized I didn’t use some of the power I had out of fear, lack of confidence, and lack of guidance.  I can’t save them from all of the racism, gender  bias, microaggressions, setbacks, or failures. But I can share my experiences and lessons learned, while also being a part of the solution through providing equitable and accessible education.

The organizations and grant initiatives that I am affiliated with are focused on diversifying our STEM and biomedical workforce and the academy.

When I was a child, I always asked “Why is this?”, or “Why is that?”  I have always been inquisitive and curious about the way things are, and the reasoning behind actions or decisions.  Now, I ask those questions about the representation of women and people of color in decision making spaces and in our institutions of higher education. As a chemical engineering undergraduate, I had zero professors who were women or persons of color in my department. I was blessed to have two black men professors for one semester of calculus and one semester of chemistry; however, that was in my entire 5 years of college. (Yes, I changed my major a few times but I finally made it out – Thank You Laude!)

Now I ask the question, “Why haven’t things changed over the past 20 years since I graduated from college?”

It’s not easy being the only one in: the room, a class, a meeting, a lab, a deparment, a program, or any space. It is particularly difficult when your otherness is a threat or unwelcomed in the space.

There are those soldiers who are called to kick down those doors and fight on the frontlines for change. I have realized that I am the general.  An army general is responsible for combat readiness or troops as well as strategic decision making during and after war. Because I have been on the battlefield, I can detect land mines and I also know some of common threat tactics.

This leads me to My Why (well, at least one of them).  I help young girl scientists strategize on the battlefield as they fight to pursue their dreams of becoming engineers, mathematicians, astronauts, physicists, health professionals, environmentalists, and the list goes on. Why? Because I know the struggle perosnally and now I’m in a position to help open doors, create doors, and shatter ceilings! Of course, I support girls on other pathways. In all cases, I remember my journey and realize everything I’ve learned is a step ahead for them.

I have other passions and interests, but this is one that fueled the launch of Celebrate Sisters Foundation with my sister.  We are here to share our knowledge, experiences and networks to girls interested in and pursuing STEM fields.

On this #FreedomFriday I am honored t help girls freely express their big dreams and aspirations with strategy and insight from my experiences. That’s My Why!

What’s Your Why?

Ja’Wanda S. Grant, PhD

(l) With Xavier students and faculty at the  Leadership Alliance National Symposium.

(r) With Leadership Alliance Doctoral Scholars at the closing ceremony


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