A high school mentorship program played a big part in helping Eugenia Duodu find success in the sciences. Now, the award-winning chemist and chief executive officer of Visions of Science Network for Learning pays it forward, ensuring that other young people from marginalized communities can also see themselves as future scientists.
The University of Toronto alumna grew up in Etobicoke, where she lived in social housing as the only child of a single mother. Watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on television sparked her childhood love of science and, in high school, Duodou attended the Faculty of Medicine's Summer Mentorship Program for students of Indigenous and African ancestry. It gave her the opportunity to shadow scientists – and, suddenly, Duodu saw a different future for herself.
She applied to U of T Mississauga, earned a bachelor's degree and then a PhD in medicinal chemistry. During her studies, she volunteered with Visions of Science, a charitable program delivering free STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs to marginalized youth in low-income communities across the Greater Toronto Area.
“I wanted to engage with an organization that connected STEM and the community,” says Duodo (pictured left), who volunteered as a facilitator for hands-on science workshops. By 2015, she was leading the growing organization as its new chief executive officer.
“Youth in low-income communities face barriers to programming, especially in STEM,” Duodu says. “The barriers are structural, but also social and sometimes psychological.”
As a result, students from low-income communities are underrepresented in STEM fields and research. It is a familiar and personal topic for many of the staff and volunteers with Visions of Science.
“We also come from those neighbourhoods and understand, first-hand, what those barriers are,” Duodu says. “We are trying to bridge the inequities that exist by offering programming in an accessible way.”
“I hope that my story will open doors for other people to decide for themselves where they want to be,” Duodu says.
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