About M. Nia Madison
Dr. M. Nia Madison earned her B.S in biology with honors from East Texas Baptist University in 2000 and her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences, summa cum laude, from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN in 2008. She is an associate professor of microbiology, general biology and anatomy and physiology at Miami Dade College, Homestead Campus in South Florida where she is also the Director of HIV research. Her research focus is on elucidating the identities of host-derived inhibitors and enhancers of HIV infectivity. She mentors undergraduate research interns in HIV research, laboratory techniques and research philosophy each semester. She utilizes her teaching platform to guide students on how to decrease their carbon footprint, decrease climate change and increase sustainability. She is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization 24/7 STEAM Works, Inc. She annually hosts a STEAM workshop for 5-12th grade girls featuring research and lecture components by STEAM-oriented, professional women as part of her goal to diversify STEAM fields and inspire young girls to undertake STEAM education and earn a terminal degree followed by a STEAM oriented career. She is the winner of the Faculty of the Year Award, the service learning rookie of the year award, the MDC President’s Excellence award, the MDC President’s Innovation Award, The AAUW STEM Ambassadorship, the Bob Graham Distinguished Faculty Award from the Florida College System Activities Association and the East Texas Baptist University, Young Alumnus Award. Her objectives also include establishing a legacy of generational wealth for under-served, marginalized and minoritized communities. In her private time, she enjoys reading, traveling, exercising and spending time with her husband of 17 years and their 6-year-old daughter.
What lessons have you learned in your STEM journey?
There will be peaks and valleys in your education and in your career and in your life in general. Embrace them all. A valley is a launching pad to a higher peak, the lessons you learn in the valleys make you more resilient, determined and ambitious. Nothing worth having in life is easily obtained, it is how your respond (not react) to the valleys that matters most. You will certainly reach your peaks with a well thought out strategy for relentlessly pursuing your established goals and objectives in life. Set your eyes on the prize and don’t let life’s distractions detour you. Recognize that sometimes failures are blessings in disguise. They are like detour signs alerting you to avoid a pitfall, take a shortcut or take the road less travelled to reach your goal. If it is meant for you, it will be yours in divine purpose and divine timing, just do your work to pursue the goal. Also, you don’t have to be a math wiz to be a professional in the technology, science or engineering fields. When you plot your data into an excel file it does the math and statistics for you. Know how to operate Microsoft excel and other software and take a statistics course. If you are not good at math, don’t let that stop you from pursuing the career of your dreams.
What has been a critical factor in your success?
A bucket list/list of goals I developed since I was a teenager and a plan to pursue those goals has been critical to my success as well as ambition, resilience, determination and mentors/role models.
My mother and my great grandmother are my role models. My mother, Mary Madison, is a missionary, a minister, a counselor, a community activist and a philanthropist. She is also an entrepreneur and the President of Children & Families First, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2004. Children and Families First has as its mission to promote positive healthy family relationships through life skills coaching, mentoring, literacy, health initiatives and scholarships. She helps families at risk for homelessness by providing parenting workshops, coaching women to set goals great and small that will move the individual and families forward self-sufficiency. She finds resources that will help families with budgeting, finding child care, locating employment and developing social skills that promote positive growth in the market place. Children & Families First has orchestrated community volunteers to come together to serve hot healthy meals to over 10,000 people. My mom was first in her family to get a college degree and now she has a bachelor’s, two masters and many licensures and certifications. She is the sweetest, kindest, most selfless person I have ever met and she taught me to treat others how I wish to be treated and to honor God by service to mankind.
My great grandmother, Dr. Lena Edwards Madison, was a gynecologist and obstetrician, a teacher and a philanthropist, who received the Medal of Freedom, the government's highest civilian honor, in 1964 for her medical services to migrant laborers in Texas. She used her own savings and raised money to build a maternity hospital and provide medical care to the migrant workers so that they would no longer have to give birth to their babies in the fields where they worked. She accomplished so many things during a time of social and civil injustice and segregation in the US. She taught me that I have tall shoulders to stand on and that if she could accomplish her divine purpose in life during such challenging times in the world, I can certainly accomplish my goals too.
What advice do you have for students and young professionals in STEM?
If you are interested in STEM but don’t know what field to pursue or if you will be good at it, think about what your interests are, review YouTube videos about what different people in STEM do for a living, determine whether you would like to do something along those lines, seek out opportunities to get experience in that field by volunteering, applying for internships/fellowships and participating in STEM camps. You can enroll in free summer/winter/after-school camps and programs to get some hands-on experience and network, apply for fellowships, internships or shadowing experiences. Ina shadowing experience you follow a professional around during his/her workday observing the actions and skills required in their field. This is an effective and cost-effective way for students to gain relevant ‘real-world’ experience prior to completing college. To get shadowing experience, find out what field you are interested in, do some research online to find out who is practicing that field near you and call them or send them an email to introduce yourself and ask if you can shadow them. You can also look at virtual job shadowing video’s online (but you don’t get to network that way) or go to https://www.virtualjobshadow.com/ or https://www.prehealthshadowing.com/.
Furthermore, in high school, participate in clubs, camps, fellowships, internships, volunteering/community service and shadowing experiences in the sciences to make you a well-rounded candidate for college, get a bachelor’s degree in the sciences, you can go straight into a doctoral program which I recommend (instead of getting a master’s degree first, which is optional), consider a dual MD/PhD degree (I highly recommend this, it gives you more job options, more money and more prestige), after grad/med school do a postdoctoral fellowship and or medical residency to solidify your experience. If you can handle school and work, make sure the job you have during school is in line with your future career choice and it is giving you experience in that field. For example, if you want to be a scientist you can start out as a lab technician or lab assistant while you are earning your degree.
It is never too late to decide or to change your mind. The earlier you decide the better, which is why I recommend shadowing experiences so you can get exposure to the career field you think you want. You may change your mind after a few days of shadowing a person who actually does what you think you want to do. Regardless, it is never too late. Let’s say most people live to be 80-90 years old and you are 16. That means you potentially have at least 64 years to perfect your skills. For that reason, don’t be turned off by spending 12 years to get training for a PhD or MD. You are going to be 12 years older anyway, you should spend those years doing something productive and perfecting your trade/skills. You don’t want to change your career every year for 64 years. By shadowing you can avoid too many career shifts and lock down a career that makes you happy, bring s your life joy and purpose, pays you very well, offers many benefits, has job security, etc.