I joined the United States Air Force in August of 2009. My career field was Air Transportation, I was stationed at Pope Air Force Base now known as Pope Army Airfield. I dreamed of traveling the world and sadly I never left my home base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. While in the Air Force I completed two tours one in Qatar which is about 200 about Saudi Arabia and the other in Afghanistan. I knew the military was not a lifelong career choice for me it did not give me a sense of purpose.
I knew science was something that always sparked my curiosity. I also knew I was going to attend an HBCU. North Carolina A&T offered a human nutrition (dietetics) program and quickly learned I was not interested in it. I wasn't quite sure what food science was when I first researched what I wanted to be once I finished serving my time in the service. I knew my love of food had to be incorporated into my major. Most of my off days was spent making healthy foods for me and some friends. Often times I would recreate a meal I just watched on the food network.
I went from wanting a degree in culinary arts to want to be a nutritionist. A mentor actually mentioned changing my major I discussed being worried about not having a lot of freedom in the dietetics. Like most people my initial thought was a mad scientist creating GMO'S or some new dehydrated space food. Once I looked further I discovered I was intrigued more behind the science of food versus food and how the human body interacts with it. My career field while in the Air Force is the complete opposite of what I wanted to get my degree in. Initially, that was discouraging how am I going to go from loading planes for 6 and half years to wearing a lab coat and coating experiments? Not to mention I am a nontraditional student, starting brand new in the college world.
The best way to get over your fear is to just start and that is exactly what I decided to do. I hope to be inspiring to all women of color in STEM by showing even through difficulties I am still here learning a new skill every day. I can say the job I had in the Airforce prepared me for becoming accustomed to being the only woman in the room and sometimes being the only person of color as well. This taught me resilience and to make the best out of every situation I was in. I hope my story is an inspiration to young women in stem. My path was by no means easy. My journey to finding my niche was a long one. However, I never gave up on myself because I knew my path was bigger than I could imagine. Over the summer I am honored to work with high schools students in RAP (Research Apprenticeship Program). This is where I get to see how impactful working a research lab is. The reward comes from guiding the students step by step from research to presenting.
Zandra is an Air Force Veteran and a student researcher at North Carolina A&T with a focus in food science and sustainability. In her spare time she enjoys travel, sampling global cuisine, spending time with family and hiking with her dog Chief.