STEMinist Profile: Mikel “Micky” Holcomb, Assistant Professor of Physics, West Virginia Univ.

Mikel Holcomb

Mikel “Micky” Holcomb

Assistant Professor of Physics
West Virginia University

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring. I have also been good at math since second grade; my mom bribed me with a pink scooter to memorize my multiplication tables. I was hooked. Throughout high school, I thought I wanted to be a math professor. Then, my college introductory physics professor lured me over to the dark side with the beauty of applying the math to applications that could change the world. I started a research project as a freshman and I still use those experimental techniques today.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I ever worked on involved understanding quantum computing at IBM during a summer internship. If that hasn’t already caught your interest, let me tell you that to do this, I got to work with lasers, liquid nitrogen and a really big magnet. What more could a girl ask for?

Role models and heroes:
Oh, I have so many that have helped me in myriad different ways.

My parents raised me to be confident and hard-working, while caring for others. I find these very important traits for this job. My husband has been wonderfully supportive of my constant conversations with him about things he doesn’t understand, so much so that he is actually starting to understand what I do now despite not being a physicist! Actually, my kids are a good source. It’s amazing to see the wonder in their eyes as I teach them something about science. My son’s bedroom ceiling is covered with the summer constellations (in approximately the correct scale) and he loves to learn. He even is amused about learning about waves on a string when we are playing with the cat’s leash. (Yes, I walk my cat. She loves to go outside.)

Norman Tolk was my research advisor as an undergraduate and always had so much excitement for both his research and life outside of it. He continues to be a vibrant collaborator. My graduate advisor Ramesh taught me a lot about hard work. My colleagues in the Physics department continue to be a wonderful source of support and inspiration. I also have several professors and beamline scientists around the country that I rely on for various forms of advice. It takes a village, and my village is the scientific community.

Advice for future STEMinists?
As a mother of two young children, I want women to realize that academia is a great job to have as a mother. While I will not claim having a job and raising a family is easy, the flexibility of the college life is better than most options.

There are some tricks to making it easier. I find that a good daycare is essential. Honestly, my children learn so much faster from other kids around their age than they ever learn from me. Also, get a babysitter for a few hours on the weekend at least twice a month. Go see a movie or do something you and your significant other enjoy. It’s easy to lose yourself to the job and the kids if you don’t take a little time for yourself. A mom’s support group can also be fun.

Favorite website or app:
Hmm, tough. I guess my favorite is keeping up with my family and friends on Facebook.

Twitter: @MickyMusic
Site: http://community.wvu.edu/~mbh039/

STEMinist Profile: Tokiwa T. Smith, Founder and Executive Director, SEM Link

Tokiwa T. Smith

Tokiwa T. Smith

Founder and Executive Director
Science Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc.



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My background is in chemical engineering and I initially pursued a career in chemical engineering because of wanting a career that combined my passion for math and chemistry. Every since I was a young girl, I have loved, enjoyed and excelled in STEM. My current career as a STEM educator and social entrepreneur was inspired by my desire to expose and engage youth in STEM and provide positive role models for them to pursue STEM careers. Growing up I didn’t meet any STEM professionals and I wanted to change that for future generations.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I have worked on and what is my favorite event is our Math and Science Career Academy’s Annual STEM Career Fair and Exhibition. We currently host a career fair in the San Francisco Bay Area and Atlanta, GA. This event is the essence of what SEM Link does as an organization; connecting youth to the STEM community. I love providing the opportunity for youth to meet and interact with STEM professionals to engage in hands on STEM as well as ask questions about pursuing a STEM Career. I’m looking forward to the day when we host a career fair in every major urban area in the United States and possibly the world.

Role models and heroes:
Most of my role models are my family, mentors and parental figures that I have picked up at various stages of my childhood and adulthood that have taught me so much. However, if I would have to name a few heroes in STEM whose name people would recognize I would have to name three women, which only one I have personally met. I will start with the woman that I met, Ms. Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, the President of the Siemens Foundation.

I have had several phone conversations with Ms. Harper-Taylor and I admire her as a nationally and possibly international figure in STEM educational philanthropy; one of the few African American leaders in this field. I love Ms. Harper-Taylor’s passion for STEM education, ability to develop relationships to achieve her goals and great communication skills. The other role models/heroes I admire are two chemical engineers that have used their training to pursue other STEM careers. Mrs. Lisa P. Jackson, the current EPA administrator and Dr. Mae Jemison.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I recently came across a slogan, “STEM is Woman’s Work”. I thought it was an excellent message to encourage young girls to academically achieve in math and science and pursue careers in those fields. Girls need to believe that they are capable and it’s acceptable to love STEM and be a STEM professional.

So never let anyone tell you that you aren’t capable of doing anything, that you are inferior to other people and that you can’t do things because you are a girl, especially when it comes to academic achievement and career choices. Never let anyone disrespect or mistreat you nor disrespect or mistreat anyone else. In addition, never compete with other girls or women but learn to support one another. The universe is full of abundance, which means that you will have everything that is meant for you to have in life as long as you are a woman of character, integrity, have a good work ethic and spend your time and energy in the right places.

Favorite website or app:
These days my favorite website is www.pandora.com because I like to listen to music while I work and I can create stations of my favorite artists/genres.

Twitter: @tokiwana, @semlink
Site: www.semsuccess.org