What are the chances of meeting a female American Indian Alaska Native chemist? 1 in 7 Billion
But, if you are involved in our work at AKA then you might very well meet one, Sadie Posey, AKA Intern and recent graduate of Montana State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, class of 2023. Sadie has worked with us since 2021 and we are celebrating her graduation and future. Graduation is a significant milestone as a first-generation college graduate on her father’s side and possibly the only American Indian female chemist in the region.
We know that…
15% of American Indian or Alaskan Native residents aged 25 or over earned a bachelor’s degree or higher compared the national rate of 33%.
There are 83,461 chemists working in the US. American Indian Alaska Natives make up just 0.2% of this group or 166 people. We have no data that tells us how many of these 0.2% are female. Our guess is very few.
Wyoming ranks 50th for chemists, just 15 live in this beautiful state … Sadie makes this number 16.
We met with Sadie to reflect on her degree in chemistry, what it means, and what advice she has for future students and American Indian Alaska Native Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) majors…
“It is a difficult, and a time-consuming degree. I think that chemistry is an intimidating degree and is challenging so most people don’t think to go into the chemistry field. I feel like STEM is not often promoted enough in Native communities."
I found in my department program I was the only Native. And as I approached further into my coursework, I was the only Native in my classes. So, I recognized the importance of finding a support system for myself. I knew AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society). AISES is a national organization that advocates and promotes STEM for AIAN students and professionals. Through AISES I found a community of other Indigenous people with whom I could relate and motivate students in the STEM field. AISES was a big part of my success, and I enjoyed it. I attended the national AISES conference last fall, and just seeing all the Native people in STEM, having that connection, was powerful. I felt supported and seen. At Montana State University we have a small chapter, with about 10-11 consistent active members and just two of them are males, the rest are females. Although Men still dominate the chemistry field and STEM-related fields this gives a small glimpse of the expansion of female presence to come in STEM. I am still the only chemist in our AISES chapter, the majority are engineers.
"The hardest part of my degree was accepting failure at moments, and not letting it define me. I wanted to be one of those people that would understand everything right away. I was not an expert right away and that was personally frustrating. I had to realize that I was not the only person who would struggle and develop patience with my learning process. It is a part of the road to success. I wish I would have asked for help sooner instead of trying to tough it out all the time."
My advice for other Native women who want to be chemists is to go for it. I hope more people end up going into chemistry and specifically Native women. Such a small percentage of Natives are in chemistry and in STEM fields in general. It’s important to have that representation. You can find yourself being lost and feeling out of place in these fields, but always know you belong there. You are meant to become this great scientist and achieve your goals.
Even though it’s a difficult science, it is a base for life.
Chemistry is everywhere in everyday life. And it truly is remarkable to learn about. My whole motivation for going into chemistry was my love of makeup. The creation and production of makeup is a chemical process. Makeup, perfumes, and all your everyday stuff involves chemistry. Chemistry spans so many things and should be explored.
I want to thank the Cobell Scholarship, Eastern Shoshone Tribe, and the St. Stephens Mission that supported me with scholarships throughout my undergraduate journey. Also, all the endless support from my family, friends, and my found communities.
"Five years from now I hope I am making makeup and have my own Indigenous makeup brand...”
We are creating the future right now. Our actions, advocacy, and support make difference and make the world just a little bit better. Native American scientists are paving the way for a future where STEM is visible in schools and students know they have the potential to live out their dreams. Sadie is a scientist and chemist we are proud to acknowledge at AKA.