Inspiring STEM through educational outreach

Nikia Rice ’19 is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in marine biology from Florida Tech and is actively involved and passionate about sea turtle preservation.

She is the Education Director at the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and the President and Founder of Mission: Clean Beaches, a non-profit she founded to raise awareness for marine litter and its effects.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a sea turtle biologist and am passionate about applying my scientific knowledge and research to real life applications and products that can positively impact sea turtle survival and all wildlife for that matter. I heavily believe educational outreach to get communities involved in conservation. As the Education Director and board member at Sea Turtle Preservation Society, I am permitted by the state (FWC) for various positions including as a Summer Sea Turtle Walk Guide, Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Response Team member, and zone leader for the Sea Turtle Emergency Response Program.

I have presented my research at local, regional, and international symposia and conferences, including the International Sea Turtle Symposium, Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Meeting, and Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. I have received multiple awards for my research and contributions to my field including a Grant In Aid of Research award from Sigma Xi Society, Florida Fly Fishing Association Scholarship recipient, and American Microscopical Society Summer Fellow.

Through my non-profit organization, Mission: Clean Beaches, I am trying to bring light to the problems of marine litter and our waste management issues. I clean up the beach about five times a week and perform marine litter surveys to help understand our trashy problems better. I am a public speaker and writer focusing on marine biology related topics to educate the public as well as articles about my work and myself published in various media outlets including companies with environmentally friendly products and practices, conservation organizations, local and international news outlets, guest blogs, and magazines. Some of these outlets include Latina news, GlassDharma, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Island Eye News, Sea Turtle Preservation Society, Friends of Hunting Island, Florida Today and many more.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?

My love for wildlife and the preservation of our natural resources was something seemingly innate to me. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself and I have always been so fascinated by science and the ability to use it to solve problems and find out more about how organisms work, function and behave in order to help save them and conserve them.

What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?

Not being taken seriously in your field or having the confidence to pursue a career in the first place. I am hopeful that is changing with more modern ways of thinking along with the amount of outreach to encourage women to pursue their dreams and be whatever they want and being a woman really shouldn’t have anything to do with it. The most important part is that we can make changes in the world that matter to us using our knowledge from these fields.

How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?

I have to remind myself to be confident and believe in my work and myself because it is extremely competitive. I do have to say though, I have been very lucky that at Florida Tech I have been surrounded by supportive, strong, independent women in science that (literally) showed me how to be a great scientist and apply my knowledge to better humanity, to better the environment, to better our quality of life and to protect our natural resources.

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?  

Don’t ever give up on your dreams and that it can happen if you MAKE it happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself…I still have to tell myself that one.

What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?

Do it, work hard, and don’t get discouraged because there is rejection in many ways– because the field is competitive, not because you are inferior. Perseverance and passion go a long way in my opinion!

In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?  

More funding and internships for women in STEM fields, more outreach programs and ensure proper policies and enforcement of protecting women in academic and professional settings. As well as public support and recognition for women in these fields.

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