For Furahi Achebe, it was "the gift" of a chemistry set as a child that led her to ultimately pursue chemistry; a field in which she has been deeply involved in for the past 20 years. Currently an Industrial Researcher, Achebe has been active in her field working on a variety of projects from pharmaceuticals to mining as well as being a co-Inventor listed on a few patents. Additionally, Achebe does extensive community work actively encouraging kids to "pursue their dreams."
In this interview, Achebe shares her passion as well as provides hard-hitting advice on how parents can assist their kids academically and emotionally.
A. My job is to work with a team of scientists to invent more effective and less polluting chemicals for the mining industry. Toward this end, I spend my days making chemicals which could be used to pull dissolved metals like copper and nickel out of acidic solutions.
In general, I mix and heat chemicals that we purchased in order to make larger ones. I follow procedures that are very similar to cooking recipes. I then purify the chemicals that I made; then, I analyze the chemicals to see if they are the correct compound and clean. Afterwards, I give the chemicals to other scientists who can test them to see how they behave with metals.
Q2. At what age did you become interested in science and why?
A. As long as I can remember, I always liked science because it explained why the world is as it is. Science gave me solid answers about the things which held my curiosity.
Q3. Were you encouraged by your family and/or teachers? Please explain?
A. I was encouraged by both family and teachers. My parents bought me a chemistry set and a microscope when I was in elementary school.
When I was 16, I took a placement exam at the beginning of my first chemistry class. The teacher looked over my shoulder during the exam and said, "I can tell you are going to do well in this class." That high expectation actually made me work harder. I finished top in my school in chemistry that year. Ultimately, that same teacher remarked that, "I was the best chemistry student he'd had in a number of years." I really appreciated the encouragement that teacher gave me.
Q4. You earned your Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Chemistry at Cornell University. What led you to study there?
A. I chose Cornell because of the academic rigor and because the campus is beautiful. Ultimately, I made many great friends there.
Q5. What are some misconceptions as it relates to science?
A. There is a misconception that girls and minorities are not good at science. People are good at the subjects they apply extra effort in. This is also true in science.
A. There are some real barriers in the scientific community but the biggest barriers "are within."
Industry needs innovative people. If you are one, then some company will hire you regardless of your race or gender. There are some people who actually believe that women or minorities tend not to be good innovators. These negative individuals will be "sprinkled" all along your career path and they will suggest to you that you do other things. Often, they will suggest that you become scientific support instead of an actual researcher.
You must give yourself the "necessary therapy" to stay in the game; that is deciding that your degree and skill set qualifies you to being in your position and knowing that your commitment to excellence will make you an increasingly valued asset to your company over the years.
You must "double down" and never let those around you outwork you. Your confidence will come from your work ethic. "Staying the course" is one of the most patriotic things you can do. In the USA, there is a documented innovation gap where women are only 5.5% of commercial patent holders. This gap costs our nation 2.7% of per capita GDP (gross domestic product) annually. Similar trends hold for minorities, but the numbers are just less readily available. Since we know innovation drives this economy, we know that it hurts our nation when women and minorities don't contribute to research and innovation. Constantly remind yourself that society needs your unique contribution, and never allow anyone to side-track you.
Q7. What advice do you have for parents who want their children to enter this field, especially their girls?
A. The nature of STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) coursework is that the material builds on previous material. It is difficult to do well if there are gaps in a student's understanding of the coursework. If your child has difficulty with a concept, it does NOT mean that they are bad in that subject. It means that they need tutoring. It is important to get some help for your child as soon as they start having problems. Please constantly reassure them that they will overcome their challenges and excel!
Q8. Please tell me more about your non-profit program in Connecticut. What led you to create "The Fitting Room?"
A. Since 2010, we have been publishing career videos which allow teens to "try on" different careers to see what "fits" them. That is why our program is called "The Fitting Room." (http://www.thefittingroom.tv) We also publish a free online magazine for teens.
Starting in 2014, the magazine will contain some videos produced by teens. The magazine is full of video articles on careers and success. Every person who visits our web magazine will be able to try on careers and probably even learn about careers that they didn't know existed.
Our web-magazine is the place online for teens to "shop" for future careers based on their interests. Each video article about careers tells teens exactly what academic subjects they need to start mastering now, to have success in a particular profession in the future.
I have volunteered in urban schools for over 20 year and raised four college-educated African-American children. I have noticed that unless a student has a career goal that is based on education, they doubt the value of what they are being taught in school. I made it my life's mission to help every teen to find a knowledge-based goal. This is why I founded "The Fitting Room."
Q9. What are some challenges that you see for young people and how can adults help change this?
A. I believe every parent has an obligation to boost their child's career aspirations. You must ensure that your child has goals that are based on knowledge and skills, not just talents. Your child may be the best singer or athlete you know of, but the odds are against being successful in these professions.
The odds of your child getting on American Idol are less than 1 in 100,000. The chance of a student playing on a high school team to become a professional athlete are less than 5 in 1000 for basketball and 8 in 10,000 for football.
Since your child deserves "better odds" of success, you must encourage them to embrace a goal that is based on education. That is truly their "best bet." Even during the recession of 2008, more than 96% of college graduates had jobs. At www.thefittingroom.tv, you and your child can link to our web channel to search our Library of Careers to find some that fit your child's abilities and interests.
Q10. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
A. Never forget the stereotypes that will "bombard your child" when he/she enters school and the workforce. You are your child's first teacher and therefore, you can have the greatest impact. Do whatever it takes to convince your child that he/she is brilliant. For example, start teaching them when they are very young. Once they are in elementary school, teach your child the information that they will learn in their next school year so that they are ahead of the curve, when the material is actually taught. This gets them on "the right track."
Try to find your child a mentor for every career that they are interested in. People within the field can share some "inside information" about getting into the field. They can also connect your child to key people. Most professionals will "jump at" the chance to help a young person, regardless of race. So, never be afraid to ask. Everyone wants a young protégé.
One of my passions in life is to reach out to young people directly in workshops and let them know what they must do now in order to start constructing the future that they desire. In these workshops, I also share written materials which they can use over the years to plot their course to success. If you would like for me to speak with your youth group, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you know of a young person who is interested in career exploration, be sure to have him/her visit http://www.thefittingroom.tv/ to learn more about what is available.
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