Thank You For Being Such A Vital Part Of Our Team, Natasha. We Look Forward To Sharing More About You So Others Can Get To Know You Better!
Tell us a bit about your backstory and what lead you down your current life path.
I am a first-generation college graduate from the south side of Chicago. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents who moved to Chicago in the 1950s from Arkansas during the second great migration. My grandparents moved to Chicago the same year the Little Rock Nine integrated Little Rock Central High School. Hearing their stories of growing up in the South juxtaposed to my own experience made me uniquely aware of inequalities/differences. Because of this, I was very adamant about attending a Historically Black College after high school graduation and chose to study Chemistry at Hampton University. While at Hampton, I was immersed in what we Hamptonians call “The Standard of Excellence,” and I still ensure that any and everything I do is always of exceptional quality. While at Hampton, I was in charge of the tutoring program and developed an opportunity for college students to tutor local high school students. This is when I realized that I liked breaking down the science just as much as doing science. I decided to apply to Teach For America instead of going directly into graduate school and return to the south side of Chicago. I taught at Urban Prep and the University of Chicago Charter School for a total of eight years before realizing that I was not fully utilizing my potential. I didn’t want to study science without feeling like I was making an impact like with teaching. I enrolled at Rush University because the institution prides itself on the ability to bring about change through translational research from the “bench to the bedside”.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career?
My family has a strong history of breast cancer on my maternal grandmother’s side. I have seen four generations affected by this disease in my lifetime with my cousin succumbing to the disease three years ago at the age of 34. I have always loved science but did not realize how best to utilize that passion and ability to understand complex concepts. My two passions are science and helping people and translational research is the best way to merge those two paths. I currently am earning a PhD in Integrated Biomedical Sciences to learn the immune system and ultimately determine a way to detect cancer at its earliest possible moment. Earlier detection would help to prevent the necessity of treatments such as chemotherapy and hopefully improve quality of life for cancer survivors.
What is one thing you are most proud of achieving in your life?
One of the most rewarding achievements to date was being successfully selected to intern with the FBI the summer after my sophomore year of college. I worked extremely hard on my application and the interview process was very thorough and long. Only two candidates (one undergraduate and one graduate) were chosen from each state to participate in the program. I was the undergraduate student chosen from Virginia. Although the background check process made me a nervous wreck, it was an indescribable experience spending the summer in Quantico and seeing so many things up close that one only typically sees on television.
Share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started teaching/tutoring.
During my first couple years of teaching, I struggled to makeChemistry and Physics relatable enough for students to not feel like each class was the bane of their existence. I always presented myself to the students as a person who knows everything. Well, one day a student challenged me on that very premise. We made a bet that if I could not connect Chemistry to any random topic that students in the class chose then I would have to not give them homework for the rest of the school year. So each day for a week students presented me with topics that I had to connect to chemistry. Students chose topics like a chair (made of matter, specific elements of the components), video games (silicon processing chip = 14th element on the periodic table), and gym shoes (made of rubber, which is a polymer). What turned out as a means to escape homework ultimately became my ticket to making Chemistry mean something to each student. This turned into a weekly challenge for the rest of my teaching career.
What do you enjoy most about teaching/tutoring, Natasha?
As a scientist and life-long learner, I love that “lightbulb” moment when the student understands a challenging concept. Having taught classes that most students don’t tend to love, Chemistry and Physics, I have come across plenty of students that absolutely are prepared to hate all of my lessons. The key is to make the lessons approachable and engaging. I love taking a difficult concept and breaking it down into “bite-sized pieces” so that students learn and not just try and memorize for a test. Having many of my former students either become teachers themselves and/or just return from college with stories of how they utilize different techniques I have taught them in order to study more efficiently makes my heart smile. Learning is and should be fun!
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy two things above everything else: (1) solving puzzles and (2) watching movies. I have been doing all sorts of puzzles since as far back as I can remember. This skill helped me to become a very keen observer. I enjoy physical puzzles, sudoku, and brain teasers. When I am not in analytical mode, I love watching movies as often as possible. Currently, I am completely obsessed with all of the DC and MARVEL movies because I like to see just how close to the comics they will be and how the writers and directors will choose to weave the story together.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? What is it and why did it resonate with you?
One book that helped me to always look at things from multiple perspectives was The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah. The story is about the daughter of a powerful drug dealer in Brooklyn, New York. On the surface, it seems to be a tale that highlights the unsavory life of minorities in an urban city but I resonated with how and why the characters ended up in the predicaments they were in. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, many of these elements were not foreign to me but the thought process behind why and how certain people end up with certain outcomes in life made a huge impression on me. It led me to minor in Sociology in college and I began to understand that many different aspects of society shape a person’s identity but the person also has the ability to decide which parts to embrace or change. I utilize this framework in my teaching/tutoring a lot because you have to approach each student holistically and try to not have any preconceived notions whatsoever. You also have to allow for grace and have understanding, especially if a student’s background may be different than yours.
The road to success is difficult and requires tremendous dedication. What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Being a scientist is not easy because a lot of the time experiments just do not work like you wish they would. To this end I have learned to adapt and pivot without compromising my integrity nor completely changing my desired outcome. It is very important to know that sometimes things simply don’t work out as planned and/or obstacles may pop up. It is essential to have a strong support system that can help to keep you motivated when you may not be able to keep your eye on the prize. It is also necessary to know that sometimes things don’t work out for a reason and for your greater good. When things go awry, you need to take a step back and reconfigure and then start again fresh. Never get too obsessed with one specific path or way of doing something. Also, asking for help is a sign of strength and shows you have an excellent sense of self.
Please share your favorite Life Lesson quote. How is it relevant to your life?
“Difficult takes a day, Impossible takes a week” – This is my life’s mantra and it is a hip hop lyric. The lyric is reminiscent of the famous quote by Muhammad Ali which states “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing. I take this quote to mean that obstacles should not be looked at as impediments but as a means for you to only get sharper, craftier, and innovative. I tell my students all the time that science is not “hard” – it is challenging, but when something is challenging, we have to step up to the plate and possibly work at it from a different angle than we are used to. As a first-generation college student, I chose to go to a school in a state with no family and 14 hours away from home. In college, I chose to major in Chemistry instead of any other science because I liked the challenge of understanding the basic building blocks or everything including life itself! This quote reminds me to never limit myself and to always imagine big.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private lunch and why? He/she might just see this! 🙂
I would live to have a private lunch with Jay-Z. He is my favorite rapper but not just because of what he raps about and how he carries himself. It is said that he never writes anything down, he simply hears the beat and then goes into the booth and just delivers. I am fascinated with how his mind works and have noticed over the years how he has made himself into a multi-faceted businessman outside of music. I would love to pick his brain to understand how he fluidly moves between business ventures and also how he manages to do it all. How does he know which idea to pursue? Does he venture out even if he is not sure it will be beneficial to him? Also, I would also just like to let him know how his music has been the soundtrack of my life whether I needed motivation, validation, to be reflective, or just to unwind and have a good time.