This week, we're presenting stories from scientists who faced unusually difficult paths to science. We all know it's hard work to become a scientist. But for some folks, even getting to that point where you can pursue your science education can seem like an impossible dream.
Part 1: When Evelyn Valdez-Ward discovers that she's undocumented, she fears her dreams of becoming a scientist are over.
Part 2: Samuel Achilefu's experiences growing up during the Nigerian Civil War inspire his passion for science.
Evelyn Valdez-Ward is an undocumented, Latina, scientist and PhD student at the University of California, Irvine. For her thesis, she studies the impact of California's drought on the ways that plants and their soil microbes (fungi and bacteria in the soil) communicate and interact with one another. In addition to doing research, she's extremely passionate about advocating for undocumented students in STEM. She recently published her story "I'm an undocumented scientist fighting for my Dream" in Science, and was invited to speak at the March for Science rally in DC to advocate for Dreamers in STEM. She has been awarded a UCI's Dynamic Womxn's Award for Outstanding Social Justice Activist, and the Svetlana Bersahdsky Graduate Student Award for her lobbying and advocacy efforts. She plans to continue lobbying and fighting for her undocumented community after graduating, and work in science policy, where she can continue to advocate for both science and minorities in STEM.
Originally from Nigeria, Samuel Achilefu is the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine. He also holds joint appointments as a Professor in Medicine, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, and Biomedical Engineering and serves as the Chief of the Optical Radiology Laboratory (ORL), Director of the Molecular Imaging Center, Director of the Center for Multiple Myeloma Nanotherapy, and a co-leader of the Oncologic Imaging Program of the Siteman Cancer Center. His lab harnesses the power of light to develop methods for understanding, diagnosing and treating human diseases and is made up of biologists, chemists, engineers, medical scientists and physicists. He enjoys biking, playing tennis, and travelling. Samuel lives with his wife and they have two college-aged children.