At a time when women are greatly under represented in the areas of science and math, it’s refreshing to speak to a young lady breaking glass ceilings in the sciences. Moreover, she is a pathfinder for African American women in her field. This Haitian-American woman epitomizes the millennial phrase “Black Girl Magic.”
Dr. Lesly Samedy is the first African American student, at Mercer University, to procure both a Doctor of Pharmacy and a Doctor of Philosophy (PharmD/PhD) degree. She is the first to successfully complete their dual degree program. A recent (2017) graduate of Mercer’s College of Pharmacy, she is a member of the Rho Chi Pharmaceutical Honor Society, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the proud daughter of Haitian immigrants.
Dr. Samedy, a three time published clinical research enthusiast, currently resides in San Francisco. In July, she began her postdoctoral research fellowship at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Her experiments will focus on pharmacogenetics and personalized medicine. Through her analysis, Dr. Samedy is committed to bridging the health care divide that exists for marginalized minority populations and, in turn, improving their quality of life. Her research is concentrated, in particular, on African Americans with chronic cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases.
Haitiville: Who are your role models?
Dr. Samedy: My role models are women who have overcome obstacles and have not let their circumstances define them. I admire Mrs. Michelle Obama, the only First Lady to attend two Ivy League schools and holds a law degree from Harvard! Secondly, Raquel Pelissier, Ms. Haiti 2017. She is a 2010 Haiti earthquake survivor and an optometrist by trade. In spite of her circumstance she went on to become a runner up in the 2017 Miss Universe Pageant, a first for Haiti since 1975. I also look up to Sadie Mossell Alexander, one of the first three African American women to receive a PhD degree. She was also the first national president of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. These are just a few I consider role models. It is women like them that inspire me to defy the odds and try to surpass expectations everyday.
Haitiville: As a Haitian American woman, did you have to overcome gender/racial stereotypes on your path? If so, how did you deal with it?
Dr. Samedy: There is considerable stigma associated with first-generation status as well as being a minority woman. My academic ability, achievements and performances were often underestimated and discredited by others. My background was often viewed as a deficit rather than a strength. For that reason, I chose to remain invisible for a long time throughout my life, second guessing my goals and aspirations. It was the strength of my parents and my family whom helped me to not only deal with these adversities but overcome them. They provided continual guidance and unwavering support.
Haitiville: Where would you say your passion for Science stems from?
Dr. Samedy: As a member of the African American community, I was exposed to the lack of public health care and the health disparity of chronic conditions. I became aware of the need for more diverse representation in the sciences. Current research and health care initiatives fail to address chronic health conditions in minorities, whom bear a disproportionate burden of disease, injury and death.
My passion for pursuing and continuing in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] was realizing the lack of diversity. In a room of 50 people, 10 might be women and of those 5 might be minorities. I was tired of not seeing myself being represented in STEM careers. My career goal is to become a presence for women, especially minority women, interested in STEM but intimidated by the lack of diversity.
Haitiville: Your thesis is dedicated to your Haitian immigrant parents. What does growing up Haitian mean to you?
Dr. Samedy: Being Haitian has taught me to be mentally strong. I see what my parents sacrificed to pursue a better life for themselves and their families. Being Haitian has taught me to push boundaries and reach for success. In our society today, people are afraid to step out of their comfort zones. Our [Haitian] people literally leave every comfort they know, simply to be great. I am proud of it and want nothing more than to emulate it.
Haitiville: What is the best advice your family gave you?
Dr. Samedy: The best advice given to me was to simply be the best. My dad has always told me that I could be anything I wanted, even if it was a garbage man. His only expectation is that I be the “best” garbage man I could be.
Haitiville: What advice would you give a young lady making her way in your field?
Dr. Samedy: My best advice that can be offered to young women looking to flourish in a male-dominated STEM field: (1) Find a mentor, someone who can provide you with guidance and advice. (2) Join a support group, a circle of women that can relate to personal and professional experiences and provide advice. (3) Don’t be afraid to be assertive! Ask questions, have opinions, speak your mind (respectfully, of course). (4) Put yourself first!!! As women, we have a tendency to want to help others before helping ourselves. And (5) Let it roll off your back – Avoid taking healthy criticism or a scientific debate personally!
My advice to young women in general, is to work hard and not settle. If you want something, claim it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you are capable of accomplishing. Do not dim your light for anyone, “Let your light shine so brightly that others can see their way out of the dark.” Be humble. Be willing to learn. Be receptive to different ways of thinking. Above all, stay true to yourself.
Haitiville: If you saw your 16 year old self reflected back at you in the mirror, what would you tell her?
Dr. Samedy: Everyone’s journey is different, don’t get discouraged if you see someone making more progress than you are, your time is coming! And that’s with everything, life, love, work…”
In speaking to Dr. Samedy her passion, drive and dedication are evident. She is truly humble beyond her scholastic and professional achievements. Dr. Lesly Samedy we wish you every success in the world.