Tabitha Willis is a Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholar as well as a Morrill Scholar. LSAMP works to significantly increase the number of students matriculating into and successfully completing high quality degree programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to diversify the STEM workforce. The Morrill Scholarship is The Ohio State University's premiere diversity/merit scholarship program, rewarding academically talented students who are actively engaged in diversity-based leadership, service and social justice activities.
Why do you believe it is important for underrepresented students to have role models who have pursued/are pursuing careers in STEM?
Often times the media likes to place minorities in boxes, dictating who they can and cannot be. Seeing people of color like Katherine Johnson, Severo Ochoa, Mae C. Jemison, George Washington Carver and more show youth that they, too, can pursue careers in STEM. Young people, especially children, see these role models, and it allows them to visualize themselves in STEM careers. They say to themselves, “I like this, I can do this, they look like me and if they can do it, so can I.” It is also important to cultivate this diversity in STEM to bring different perspectives and ideas to the field to further the progress of scientific discovery.
How do you hope to address this lack of role models in your hometown of Chicago, Illinois?
I am very passionate about increasing the number of underrepresented students in STEM fields. I started working towards this goal early on when I represented the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago on a board that included seven of Chicago's top STEM institutions. Together we founded Amplify Chicago, a research and internship program for underserved and underrepresented students in Chicago. Amplify Chicago provides world-class internship and research opportunities for underserved minority teens in the nation's premiere STEM research intuitions. We hope to expand this organization to other cities in the future. I also hope to increase access to role models by starting my own nonprofit organization that will provide minority students with mentors pursing STEM degrees. I want students to have contact with people who have excelled throughout high school and the college admissions process to provide guidance and support to underserved high school students.
How have LSAMP and MSP supported you?
LSAMP has provided me with mentorship and support through workshops and different types of professional development programing throughout the school year. As a resident in the Morrill Scholars Learning Community, I have learned more about myself, different communities, and diversity and inclusion topics that have bettered me as an individual. I have also connected with faculty and ODI staff who have given me needed support in my extracurricular and personal endeavors.
What are your research interests at Ohio State?
I am a premed student with a passion for all things STEM. I am passionate about biomedical sciences, natural history, astronomy, physics and more. My research interests are very wide as I have enjoyed learning about different branches of science topics in my classes. However, I hope to get involved in cardiology and/or microbiology research on campus.
If someone in high school who was considering majoring in a STEM field came up to you and asked for some advice, what would you say to them?
I would tell them to take full advantage of the opportunities around them, to explore their STEM interests. I would have them check out STEM programs at local museums, universities, zoos and other intuitions around them. This is imperative because the world of STEM is so vast. Most importantly, I would encourage them to pursue their interest no matter what obstacles may arise.
What is your degree and when do you plan on graduating? Any plans set for after graduation?
I am pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Physical Anthropology. I plan to graduate in Spring 2022, and I hope to attend medical school after graduating. In the future, I want to attend a medical school that has a MD/PhD or a MD/MBA program. I also want to have my nonprofit organization fully operational and thriving.