Winning Essay by Aquavia J. from Arkansas attends University of Arkansas-Forth Smith

I moved across the country with the love of my life to work at one of the fastest growing companies in the third industrial revolution. I scrambled for my identification and list of questions that I had for the recruiter. When I walked into the front door of the Tesla gigafactory, I was filled with excitement and motivation. I received notice that I was chosen for a position and it was worth taking the semester off from college. Everything seemed to be working out. Murphy’s law quickly shattered paradise. Everything that could go wrong, did. My then fiancé told me he was not happy anymore. I found myself starting over. I moved back to Arkansas with my two-year-old son. I feared this new intersection in life and I felt deprived of any inspiration. I enrolled myself back into college despite fighting to steady myself.

I watched a TED talk presented by Jedidiah Isler. She spoke on the liminal space. She faced obstacles that would define her determination as an African American woman in STEM. Jedidiah began her college career after a devastating emotional period. Her father left the family and their financial state plummeted. She wanted to be an astrophysicist for years, but she was at a cross-section. She persevered, receiving her bachelor’s degree in physics. Two years post-graduation she found herself pursuing the same dream. She applied for the master’s program at Vanderbilt and achieved yet another goal after receiving it. She then applied for the Ph.D. program at Yale. Despite her relentless pursuit to escape the liminal space, one of her classmates pushed dirty dishes in front of her and told her to “do what she really came here to do. “I sympathized with Jedidiah because after hurdling the financial and emotional obstacles to reach this moment in which she should have been rejoicing, the reality was some people still perceived a statistic and nothing more.

Jedidiah became the first African American woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in astrophysics in Yale’s 310-year history. Today she studies blazars with the intent to educate the science community and public on the dynamics of celestial matter. Jedidiah realized that she had to be comfortable in the liminal space not only because of her minority status but because of her career choice. STEM is the platform for the unknown. I have learned not to fear the liminal space, but instead to embrace it because that is where my character will be derived. Jedidiah suggests “there’s freedom in that space (the liminal space), the freedom to create a new self-definition.” Today I am occupying the space between dreams and reality. I have dreams of graduating from MIT and goals of advancing the technology for developing countries to advent sustainability. Jedidiah has inspired me to embrace the liminal space and pursue my dreams and curiosity with a non-negotiable attitude.


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