Raven Baxter, ’14, ’16, has loved science since she was a young child. Growing up, she always imagined herself in a lab coat. In college Baxter realized that children like her needed more relatable role models to encourage them to pursue careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Changing Science Culture By Teaching
“I got fed up with the current state of science culture and decided to get up and do something about it,” said Baxter, who pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Buffalo State.
Baxter is now a STEM college coordinator for Health Charter Sciences School in Buffalo, where she develops college-level science programming and credit-bearing opportunities for high school students.
After graduate school, Baxter worked in cancer research, on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo, for Albany Molecular Research Inc., a global drug discovery and development organization. Baxter loved the work, but she wondered if she could be using her science background to make a more direct impact in the Buffalo community.
“I remember thinking to myself, There are kids literally down the street from me who are failing, and I’m in a lab all day,” said Baxter, who worked in Buffalo Public Schools classrooms as a substitute teacher while pursuing her master’s degree.
Baxter accepted a position as an assistant professor of biology at Erie Community College, which she said changed the course of her professional life.
“I loved teaching and working with the students,” she said. “It’s the reason why I decided to pump the brakes on a career in hard science and do something in science education.”
A New Path for Classroom Engagement
She later returned to Buffalo State for a position as an academic adviser for all biology, physics, chemistry, forensic chemistry, and earth science freshmen. While working full time at Buffalo State, Baxter was accepted to the Ph.D. program in curriculum, instruction, and the science of learning at the University at Buffalo. She was awarded a full scholarship and an Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship.
“Early in my Ph.D. program, I was still going back to the same question: How can we create better ways to engage underrepresented children in local schools in STEM classrooms and eventually STEM careers?”
“My biggest piece of advice for my students is always, Be your own biggest advocate and push yourself to do things that challenge you."
The Science Maven
From there Raven, the Science Maven was born. Baxter created a website and YouTube channel to publish science education content and her experiences as a woman of color in STEM. According to Baxter, her alter ego (a play on Bill Nye the Science Guy) was “created in response to a lack of culturally relevant material that engages underrepresented minorities about STEM education.”
Baxter produced, directed, and starred in a rap music video titled “Big Ole Geeks” to add to the narrative about women of color in science and to challenge stereotypes about female scientists.
“The song and video are really about showcasing that you can be smart and still have fun,” she said. “The whole idea started off as a joke with my friends, but it turned out to be really well received.”
Discovering a Love for Research
Around the same time that she posted her music video, Baxter’s Ph.D. adviser exposed her to academic research about culturally relevant pedagogies. Baxter is now integrating her experience as the Science Maven into her doctoral research and dissertation.
“My interpretation of culturally relevant pedagogy has been primarily through rap and hip-hop music,” said Baxter, who released a full-length album this summer. “There’s a huge body of research around the topic and evidence that there is a need for what I am doing.”
She is currently the principal investigator for a research study about adult attitudes toward STEM digital media.
As an alumna of Buffalo State, Baxter said, she loved advising students with similar educational journeys.
“My biggest piece of advice for my students is always, Be your own biggest advocate and push yourself to do things that challenge you,” she said. “You have to be your No. 1 fan.”