Black Girl Magic: Defying the Odds as a Non-traditional Astrochemistry Student

Meet Ashley a non-traditional student attending CSU with a very unique story.  Currently Ashley is a senior chemistry major from Chicago State University. Last summer, she was apart of the Banneker-Aztlán Institute at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The project was based on HCN in protoplanetary disks and modeling ice chemistry. Prior to this, she has worked on meteorite surfaces and galaxy surveys using radio telescopes.

Ashley's goal is to become the first African American woman to receive a PhD in astrochemistry and to show how important chemistry is to astronomy, as a nontraditional student, and as a black woman.

Currently, she is working at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. Sarah Hörst as her advisor. These projects focuses on the chemistry on Venus and Saturn's moon, Titan. 

Let's take a look into Ashley's story shall we?...


My story has a unique twist to it. In 2016, my father passed away from lung cancer. Shortly after his death, the social security administration mistakenly declared me deceased. 

Early Life:

I was always fascinated with the space. My uncle bought me a telescope when I was 5. My aunts took me to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago when I was 9 or 10. I had always wanted to go back. When I was in high school, I took a Earth Space science class. This peaked my interest a little bit more. My curious nature lead me to pursue a non-traditional astronomy career.

The Journey as a non-traditional African- American woman in Astrophysics:


I started doing research in astronomy in 2016 and Illinois had a state budget crisis, which Chicago State was suffering from. A lot of people were leaving and with this being said, my advisor decided to leave Chicago State. I was her very first chemistry student and last research student at CSU. During this time, I was taking care of my ill father. He had lung cancer and passed away from the complications of the disease in the beginning of the fall semester. My former advisor is very supportive. She encouraged me to apply to the Banneker & Aztlán Institute at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.


The unique twist:

One day, I was notified by financial aid at CSU and informed that I needed to present my social security card. I went to the financial aid office at my school and was told that I needed to go to the SSA. When I went to the SSA, I learned that I was mistakenly declared deceased on the date of my father’s death.

Everything was taken away from me. My credit cards were shut down and financial aid was gone. I had a Gofundme page. I AM EXTREMELY grateful for my mentors, advisors, and so MANY SUPERSTAR scientists who shared my Gofundme and through their help I was able to attend classes in spring.

That spring, I was accepted to the Banneker & Aztlán Institute. I interned in the astrochemistry lab and did research on early planet formation and planet forming disks using computational modeling of ice chemistry. I met so many cool scientists of color during the program. Some of which are now my closest friends and mentors.

Read the full story HERE



Future Plans:

My future plans include becoming the first African American woman to receive a PhD in astrochemistry, working at NASA Goddard or NASA Ames in their astrochemistry lab, hosting a podcast or show with some of my astronomy peers, continuing to encourage women of the African diaspora to pursue STEM fields, and eventually being a professor at Chicago State University and starting a formal astronomy program.

Ashley and her  summer institute  collegues

Ashley and her summer institute collegues

By reading Ashley's story, it is evident that life can throw some unexpected curve balls at you. One thing is for certain, Ashley has shown us that no matter the circumstance, remaining determined, humble, and positive will always bring the blessings you deserve. Black girl magic at it's finest!



Hi My name is Kara and Welcome to Ladies Love STEM! I'm full-time graduate student and #STEMsis. When I'm not in the lab, I'm usually enjoying beautiful HotLanta. Here at Our goal is to provide women of color a space to motivate, encourage, and celebrate one another in STEM.

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