'Your journey is your own': NC State student breaks barriers in marine science

Akilah Davis Image
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
NC State student breaks barriers in marine science
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NC State's Kayelyn Simmons is navigating in unchartered waters for minority women in the field of marine science.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Kayelyn Simmons is navigating in uncharted waters for minority women. The 32-year-old started pursuing marine and environmental science 15 years ago as an undergraduate student on the campus of Hampton University. Two internships later, she was sold on life in the ocean.

"Your journey is your own when you're underwater," said Simmons. " I knew I wanted to do something with diving, coral reefs and I loved dissecting fish. My favorite thing was to get down and dirty and put it under the microscope and see how everything ticks and works from a biological standpoint."

The Atlanta native is now a North Carolina State Doctoral candidate in marine science. She conducts underwater surveys for her research while studying coral reefs. Through her research, she uses a hydrophone, which is an underwater microphone that records sounds made from a variety of fish. She's even had some encounters with one of the ocean's deadliest creatures.

"I generally see a dark shadow make a pass by me. I want to make myself look alive. I see you. You see me. Most of the time sharks don't like divers because we're loud and we have a lot of metal. We're clunky. We don't look like we're supposed to be there," she said.

Throughout this journey, Simmons has noticed few people look like her in the industry.

The Pew Research Center shows African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math. In fact, data shows black scientists like Simmons make up just nine percent of the stem workforce.

The fearless research diver continues navigating unchartered waters. She's on a journey to inspire others to follow.

"I think representation in the industry needs to start with investing. So investment in HBCU's and investment in Native American colleges," said Simmons.