One woman’s vision and grit to debunk the myths on the science behind beauty turned her into a successful African American cosmetic chemist. Erica Douglas, the Sister Scientist, spoke on innovative careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math on March 13, 2019 at Xavier University of Louisiana. Douglas delivered the public lecture as part of the speaker series for the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program.
“We wanted to expose students to things outside your traditional medical path or PhD, and show ways to engage other types of interest,” said Ja’Wanda Grant, whose office oversees Scholar Development and Institutional Alliances within Xavier’s office of Academic Affairs. Douglas not only shared her story of success as an entrepreneur in STEM, but also inspired students to build their own innovative career paths beyond simply going to medical school.
“I needed to grow up, invest in myself and my studies, and create the solutions that were not available,” Douglas said. She said she honed in and buckled down on her niche of cosmetology that helped get her to where she is today.
A Chicago native, Douglas began her journey at Stanford University where received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. She then went on to do graduate studies in biochemistry, and molecular and cell biology at Northwestern University. After leaving school, Douglas put her education to work in the Namasté Laboratories, formulating cosmetic products for Organic Root Stimulator. A few years after working in the lab, Douglas decided to go back to school to get her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, studying marketing and business development strategy. After school, she got the entrepreneurial bug and decided to start her own company, mSEED Group- to launch and brand new products, that allowed her to build her platform as Sister Scientist. Douglas shared that she uses the term Sister Scientist to try to help change the stereotypes of what a scientist or a chemist is supposed to look like.
Douglas now uses this role to help brands develop innovative hair and skin products, targeting women of color, while also using her own marketing team to brand these products. “I needed to figure out how to let people know this what I do, this is what I know, and this is why you want to know me,” Douglas said. She shared with students that she had to explore different paths and come to grips about what she wanted, to get to where she is.
“I feel like Ms. Douglas was very beneficial in describing ways for students like me to take STEM and entrepreneurialism to another level,” said Chelluh McGill, a Xavier freshman and Houston-native. McGill shared that she was glad that someone from a more non-traditional field came to speak with students and show them different career routes to take.
“Don’t let people put you in a box,” Douglas said. She urged students to not let people tell them what goes together and what doesn’t, and to decide what makes sense to them. “You have to own who you are and what you are passionate about and believe in yourself enough to make it happen,” she said.