Despite the odds Amie Fornah Sankoh persevered and made history in the process.
The Sierra Leone native recently graduated with a PhD from the University of Tennessee (UT) Knoxville’s Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she is the first deaf Black woman to ever obtain the degree.
Sankoh lost her hearing at just three years old, and as an adolescent struggled through elementary school in her home country because she couldn’t hear her teachers.
“My father sent me to live with his best friend in America, who adopted me,” she told Chemistry World. “Doctors in the US could not cure my deafness, but I was able to join the deaf community where I learned American Sign Language [ASL] over the next few years.”
She continued: “Mathematics is just very visual, and I was able to enjoy that,” she told the outlet. “Anytime a person talked, I didn’t understand anything, but when they would write out the formulas then I could see it and I could see each step of how to solve that problem.”
Sankoh joins a small but mighty group of Black women that have earned STEM degrees in the US. In 2019–2020, women of color earned only ( 5.1% of bachelor’s degrees across all STEM fields, with Black women making up just 3.0%.
“It’s always easy to doubt yourself and give up—I can’t tell you how many times I had self-doubt and thought I’m not able, I’m not going to pass,” Sankoh told Chemistry World. “The journey was very challenging, but with the right mentor I was able to overcome – I was able to focus on the science rather than on just advocating for my inclusion and accessibility.”