Overcoming Racial, Gender and Cultural Bias: A STEM Role Model Tells How She Reached the Stars

Zyola Mix has overcome many difficulties in her personal life, as well as cultural obstacles, to pursue her dream of working in the space industry. Her road to becoming a Mechanical Designer at SEAKR Engineering began during her childhood in Hawai`i. At age five, a visit with her great uncle and cousins to Diamond Head provided a view of the stars so inspiring–“the ocean was glassy and black, perfectly reflecting the stars above,” she recalls–that Zyola decided to pursue a career in the space industry.

Her home life was difficult and, at times, abusive, which meant that Zyola was not always confident in her own abilities. Furthermore, she says, “there were many cultural, racial and gender biases to fight through.” Like other women and minorities, the prospect of trying to fit into an overwhelmingly and persistently white and male workplace was somewhat daunting. “The adults in my life either actively discouraged me,” she says, “or didn’t know enough about the STEM world to encourage me.” Still, she was able to “find refuge in books and in the story of Dr. Mae Jemison,” the first female African-American astronaut.

After deciding to move across the country to escape an abusive marriage, Zyola reconnected with her goal of doing work related to the stars–largely because she wanted to provide a stable home for her daughter and demonstrate that “any challenge can be overcome.” She “started over without a penny and suffered the stigma of trying to live on public assistance; on top of that, I was going to school full time, working, and raising a child alone without support.”

Once she enrolled at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s school of Aviation and Aerospace Science, she often felt that “the only thing that really kept me moving was —> Read More

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