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Nikki Delk Named Among 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists

Three University of Texas at Dallas researchers were named to the list of 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America published by Cell Press in December.

Associate professor Dr. Nikki Delk in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and assistant professor Dr. Michael Burton and postdoctoral scientist Dr. Bianca Mason, both in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, were cited in a catalog intended to “dismantle the myth that outstanding Black scientists make up a small percentage of the scientific community.”

Delk, who joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 2014, is a Fellow, Cecil H. and Ida Green Professor in Systems Biology Science. Her research focuses on inflammation-induced breast cancer and prostate cancer progression and treatment resistance. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and her doctorate from Rice University. She also achieved the rank of captain while serving for four years in the U.S. Air Force.

“When people find out that I am a scientist, they are often in awe,” she said. “Black people, and especially Black women, are underrepresented in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]. I think one reason why Black women are underrepresented in STEM is because of society’s perception of a scientist. I once surveyed family and friends from different age, race, gender and professional groups on what comes to mind when I say ‘scientist’ and most replied ‘Albert Einstein.’

“Until we expand our definition of a scientist, young Black girls may not consider it as a career choice. The first step is to increase diversity in the field so that young people from all backgrounds have examples to look to.”

Delk believes that changing that perception for current and future generations will help close the gap, along with programs that help open doors for those in demographics that are underrepresented in research fields.

“I have had the advantage of being at institutions that respect racial and cultural differences and support inclusion initiatives in STEM,” she said. “In addition, during my graduate and postdoctoral training, I benefited from programs that promote diversity in STEM, such as the National Science Foundation AGEP [Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate] program and the National Cancer Institute Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. These programs provide networking and professional development opportunities in a group setting of people with shared cultural and social experiences. I gained a STEM family that has served as a support system throughout my career.”

Delk said that scientists in positions like hers can be a positive influence.

“Now that I am a tenured faculty member at a research institution, I am in a position to make decisions that can have a positive impact on our next generation of scientists, including encouraging and facilitating more young folks from underrepresented groups to pursue a career in science,” she said.

See original article on UTD Magazine UTD Trio Named Among 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists.

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by mad048000 — February 15, 2021