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November 25, 2020

You Are More Than Capable: Alexis Hunter Talks Teaching, Research, and Centering Black Women in STEM

For most people who aren’t used to presenting research to large groups, the idea of presenting at Harvard University about a new learning strategy may seem more than daunting.

Yet, for Flossmoor native Alexis Hunter, as nerve wracking as it may have been it went as well as she could’ve hoped.

“I was definitely nervous. But everyone was super sweet and super supportive of me,” Hunter said.

Hunter, a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia who is majoring in Secondary Language Arts and minoring in English, always had an idea of what she wanted to do. Growing up as part of triplets, Hunter said she always loved going to school and learning with her siblings.

That passion translated to teaching, research, and the involvement of Black women in STEM.

“In the sense of higher ed,” Hunter said, “how we can incorporate and how we can center Black women in STEM?”

“If we center Black folks in STEM, then that’s going to make the field better for everyone else because they’re so underrepresented in those spaces.”

That focus would send Hunter to Mizzou, where she would become a part of a research team housed in the school’s College of Education. Not too long after, an even bigger opportunity would present itself: becoming President of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

“That opportunity came because of my good friends and mentors, who have since graduated,” Hunter said. “We realized that there was a gap that existed because they were about to graduate and we needed someone to fill that gap. So the advisor reached out to me.”

“I was like, ‘Yes, totally’, because that organization, even when I was just a member, did so much for me, and just gave me a space to connect with my peers and do networking. And the main thing that I learned from them is that we need to support each other and the importance of connection.”

Her time as President would lead to opportunities such as the aforementioned Harvard presentation, the focus of which was inspired by one of her professors.

“Literally one day I was talking to my professor, Dr. Ashley Woodson,” Hunter said. “And I was telling her, ‘Oh, my gosh, I just came from class, and they were talking about, like media literacy and using different types of texts that are considered non-traditional’.”

After learning that Dr. Woodson would be giving a presentation regarding that exact same topic, Hunter would join her to present at Harvard’s Practicing Hope Summit Conference about the usage of memes in the classroom, becoming the first undergraduate to do so.

“Let’s say, for example, I pair a meme with To Kill a Mockingbird,” Hunter said, “it actually can help deepen the understanding of the text for the students.”

“Because that’s a book that, although it has cultural relevance, it’s considered more outdated. So students might not feel as connected to it as they would be to like a SpongeBob meme or something that they’ve seen on Twitter. So when you’re able to compare memes with these traditional texts, you’re helping them grow. You’re showing them [educators] you have all this cultural capital, we just have to tap into it. And we have to engage it in the classrooms.”

A Harvard presentation, a presentation at the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government, and an upcoming TED Talk all may seem too much for someone to accomplish in just her undergraduate days. However, as Hunter says, you’ll never know unless you take a chance.

“I know that’s hard to hear because it’s hard for me to remember sometimes, too,” Hunter said. “But you really just have to go for it. And you have to just continue to speak life into yourself.”

“Remind yourself why you are qualified. You are passionate about, you know, whatever your interest is. You are more than capable of doing whatever you set your mind to.”


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