ISU alumna pushes for more diversity in STEM fields
Candice Halbert ’01 belongs in any room she enters. A chemistry graduate from Illinois State, Halbert has devoted her career to neutron scattering and is a scientific associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where she has worked since 2006.
Her expertise has led her to research opportunities and conferences all over the globe. Even with her distinguished resume, Halbert is often noticeable in those rooms for different reasons. It hit her during one trip abroad.
“I went to group meeting and I’m sitting in a room with about 25 people,” Halbert said. “And it’s no women except me and no people of color at all.”
Halbert was the keynote speaker at the sixth annual Charles Morris STEM Social for underrepresented students held November 7 in the Vrooman Center. She told the crowd of mostly Illinois State students and faculty that it took teachers and professors to find a spark in her scientific skillset for her career to take off. From there, she took advantage of her opportunities and wasn’t afraid to take chances.
While still working as a scientific associate, Halbert has committed her additional time to be that spark for other promising STEM students from underrepresented groups.
Halbert established Yo-STEM (Youth Outreach in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in Knoxville, Tennessee. The nonprofit’s purpose is to work with underserved communities to address the lack of diversity in STEM.
The more children are exposed to these types of disciplines and seeing people who look like them working in the industry, the more likely they are to pursue something similar, Halbert said. “You don’t know what you want to be unless you can see it, and representation matters big time in those instances.”
At the STEM Social, Illinois State honored several students who are already taking steps to break down those barriers.
Juniors Ciara Newman and Angela Brown earned the Charles Morris STEM Scholarship, a $500 prize funded through the Charles Morris Jr. Educational Equity Fund. In addition, students
Jasmine Service, Makayla Boykin, Juan Canchola, and Ewurabena Okai received $230 scholarships. The Charles Morris STEM Social Team won an honorable mention Team Excellence Award at the University and earned a $1,000 prize. The group decided to split its winnings into additional student scholarships.
Junior Lesley Pinzon, who won the Charles STEM Scholarship along with senior Earon Grinage last year, is a general biology major who hopes to go into dentistry someday.
Pinzon is also a first-generation college student who has been knocking down doors her whole life. She said having someone like Halbert come back to campus is a drive to keep chasing after big goals.
“I think that’s really motivational to a lot of students to see someone who was able to overcome those obstacles and still play a big role in a certain field like health care or research,” Pinzon said.
Halbert addressed the audience for nearly 25 minutes and ended her speech with three bullet points: Leave a legacy; be intentional; and don’t be afraid to take new chances and accept new opportunities.
She emphasized to students how important it is to give back. “If we are going to change the future and if we are going to get rid of underserved communities to a point where everybody is served, then we have to do the work now,” Halbert said.
Halbert has left her legacy and continues to build it. Other Redbirds at the event hope to leave a similar one.
“I feel a lot of times we lose track of where we came from when we make it to the top,” Grinage said. “I just want to be a great influence on black and brown children who want to do STEM, or who wants to do anything in their life they thought at one point was unachievable.”