Struggling to stand still, I shake my leg to release nervous tension as I glance at my peers who accompany me on the stage. Holding our laminated stories in her hand, the contest organizer speaks into the microphone. “The winner of this year’s Burberry Award is Kesha Morant!” Calling me forward, she hands me my story wrapped in a bow. I stood on the stage with my laminated story in hand and rubbed my finger over the first-place writing medallion.

Although the Burbery Award was only my local elementary school’s version of the John Newbery Award, the moment was a foundational component of my journey with words. I can’t recall a moment where blending words and thoughts on a piece of paper and later a computer screen didn’t create a wonderful sense of fulfillment. As far back as I can remember, my community fostered my giftings and found ways to help me grow. My parents enrolled me in creative writing, journalism, and production programs. They took me to the library where I would lose myself between the pages of books for hours at a time.

During my time at J.P. McCaskey High School, I was the features editor of the Vidette School Newspaper and on Wednesday mornings, I co-hosted a weekly gospel show over the school announcement system. From my time as an intern with WGAL-TV, a news clerk and eventually a newspaper reporter with LNP, and community outreach with nonprofit organizations, I always knew that my life’s journey was directly linked with intentional communication.

During my junior year at West Chester University, I created a documentary highlighting the work of the Black Student Union, including the groups’ bus trip to the Million Women’s March, in Philadelphia. At the time, I had no idea that my work was documenting such a historic moment—such a beautiful gathering of motivated women committed to their own improvement as well as the improvement of their communities.

At that time, I had no idea that 20 years later I’d link with a group of equally powerful and driven women who are charting their course to self and community improvement. When I was invited to write about the experiences of 14 women of color who are changing the narrative around Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), I had no idea how much their journey would impact me.

Their experiences challenged me to explore science communication in ways that I had never considered. Through our conversations, I worked to take discipline-specific jargon and make it clear for everyday audiences. However, through the process I found myself desiring to understand their disciplines and wondering if, under different circumstances, I would have considered becoming a science writer or something similar.

Over the last year, the audio recordings, answers to my somewhat random questions, and the interview transcripts of this journey filled my mind on a consistent basis. With each story, I became more encouraged, more committed to future generations. As a college professor, I found it especially encouraging that because of the work of Advantage Lancaster, young people are entering the next phase of their life more equipped than ever before.

When I began to unpack the narrative of Advantage Lancaster alumnus and now a board member, JacQui Archey, I was nearly brought to tears by this beautiful example of a full-circle moment. JacQui, who was a 14-year-old eight grader when she joined this life-affirming program, lauds the mentors for their steadfast commitment to her success not only when she was their student but throughout her life. Nearly two decades later, she is a college graduate, a mother, a member of the Army National Guard, a chemist at Johnson & Johnson and is a Temple University graduate student studying Forensic Science. Also, she is the first alumni board member of Advantage Lancaster.

The experiences of each of the 14 women in this publication are equally inspiring. Some stories provide an international lens to education, progress, and long-term goals; while others explore generational and cultural adjustments within a family system.

It is no secret that the number of women, more specifically women of color, in STEM disciplines is dismal. In these stories, many of the women address the challenge and isolation of being “the only one” in their academic environments. Nevertheless, they refuse to allow this to be a deterrent from their goals. In other examples, the women who attended Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) suggest an ability to focus specifically on their work in a community of people with similar lived experiences.

The impressive representation of Advantage Lancaster Women of Color in STEM highlight the experiences of students in middle school, high school, college, graduate school, and those in their profession of choice. Through their tapestry of experiences, the women serve as mentors and are mentored by each other, and set a standard for those who follow. The narratives in this body of work highlight that Advantage Lancaster goes beyond the classroom and pours directly into the lives of the students they serve in all areas of life on an ongoing basis.

I hope that you are as moved by these amazing women as I am. It is an honor to give a voice to their stories.

Advantage Lancaster Presents: The Color of STEM