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SHEs in STEM: Kira Bailey

SHEs In STEM: Kira Bailey

Name: Kira Bailey

Age: 27

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Company: Advanced Behavior Consultants

Industry: Social Science, Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Autism

Hobbies: Painting & Crafts, D.I.Y Projects, Nature Walks, & Journaling

I am a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and Freelance Organizational Advisor. I facilitate early intervention behavior modification for children diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I have worked as a Research Analyst II and an Autism Therapist for the Tadpole Project at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

I am a graduate of Austin Peay State University, with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, concentration in Developmental Psychology and a minor in Occupational Therapy. I obtained a Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership from Belmont University in the winter of 2017. I have volunteered and serve as a mentor for numerous STEM promoting organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, 4H Club and faith-based ministries.

My passion is helping educate at-risk youth and their families by strengthening their household dynamics and creating healthy lifestyles so that they can obtain a better quality of life.

Background

I grew up in a community where education, let alone STEM, was not the primary focus for schools or families. All anyone cared about was survival by any means necessary. Thanks to my SHEroine, my mother, who was a Licensed Practitioner Nurse, I had a pretty decent upbringing. It was far from the best, and as I grew older, things got worse. But hey, living in a single parent household with two older sisters, 2 delinquent male cousins and other rotating family members, I was happy if we had Ramen noodles to eat for dinner.

I have faced so much adversity prior to the age of 18, it’s truly unbelievable for many that I am where I am today.

According to statistics, there was no way a young black female from the inner city with no family or financial stability would become an esteemed therapist employed by one of the most prestigious healthcare facilities in the United States.

At an early age, I was taught to observe, investigate and analyze everyone and everything within my environment. I learned these things not because my family knew I was destined to be a SHE in STEM, I learned this way of life out of fear for my safety and security. The circumstances I was raised in shaped my personality, fostering traits that are more than fitting for the field of science. Having to make quick decisions that could ultimately be life-threatening molded me to be an independent thinker. Peer pressure was all around me so I had to evaluate and make decisions that were good for my health and well-being.

Now, I enjoy troubleshooting problems that may affect my client’s treatment. I grasp complexities with ease and can effortlessly discriminate ideas of what the desired results should be.

There was always a million and one things going on in my household so I learned very quickly to multitask and develop a systemic approach to tackling my workload. With very little parental supervision, there were many times I was put in the position to care for myself, younger cousins, kids from the neighborhood and adults who were supposed to be taking care of me. I assumed a leadership role before I could do multiplication.

All of this responsibility at such a young age prepared me to provide direct client care in a 1:1 and group setting. After all, living in a time that everyone, even those who are not qualified to provide guidance to a blind dog, had an opinion, I developed self-assurance. And boy oh boy, it has definitely helped me a great deal! Despite whatever happened, or who said what, I had a strong belief in my ability to overcome adversity.

I am a first-generation college and masters program graduate. I am the underrepresented SHE in STEM.   

Why a career in STEM?

Up until my sophomore year at Virginia State University, I was sure I was going to be a journalist for the trendiest media source. However, thanks to my advisor, I ended up in general psych. and bio. classes which opened my eyes to what I had been indirectly training for all along. I realized I’d always been that child that drives people crazy, asking,

“Why?” No matter what the response is, there is a follow-up question. How, when, who, are you sure, or how do you know that? I am that person in a public setting, staring at you while you are minding your own business You turn your head or maybe even stare back to see if I’m still looking at you. You begin to wonder, “do I have something on my face or my clothes, better yet “do I know you?”

It was not until I got a 100% on consecutive psych exams and a 4.0 GPA in my science classes when my advisor sat with me and convinced me that I was exactly what the behavioral science field was missing and needed to have.

I did not choose a career in STEM, it chose me.

Applied behavior analysis is second nature to me! No matter where I am or what I am supposed to be doing, I find myself studying, working to understand and wanting to improve the actions of others; typical, mentally ill and/ or disabled.

The ABC’s of ABA

As an RBT and Research Analyst II for the TRIAD Research program, I was gifted the opportunity to work with people and databases. I assisted with research data management and with the implementation of early intervention research protocols conducted with toddlers diagnosed with ASD.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a concentration of STEM that drives my career. It is widely recognized as one of the most effective treatments for autism and is now being applied in other industries. As an ABA therapy provider, I am required to have expertise in a variety of disciplines including research methods, biology, anatomy & physiology, psychology, sociology, etc. I use evidenced-based scientific principles to modify behavior in everyday situations. I help foster basic skills such as attending, language development and motor skills, to more complex skills such as reading social cues, academics, daily living and life skills.

ABC-Behaviour

Throughout my years in the science field, the ABC data collection method has been one of my favorite assessment tools. It allows me to use my God-given talent to observe and record situational factors surrounding a client’s problem behavior. However, don’t get it twisted, collecting data is not as simple as ABC! Finding the antecedent of a specific behavior can be difficult because there are a variety of factors that can negatively or positively influence an individual’s behavior, it’s almost never discrete. I go through a list of questions, “When, where, with whom and in what circumstances does this behavior occur? If I can eliminate those antecedents, I may be able to eliminate the problem behavior resulting in a more desirable outcome.

The Good, the Bad, and the Unmentionables

Being a SHE in STEM has its pros and cons, as with any career. However, with the odds stacked in my favor; being a first generation career professional, a minority and a SHE, it’s tougHER!!! On a regular basis, I find myself encountering issues that my male colleagues or fair skin SHEs do not have to deal with. Now, don’t get it mistaken, I’m not saying that there is a gender or race preference in the workplace. I’m saying that I have to work 3x times harder to get recognition, I have to assert myself more to be heard and I have to defend my reasoning to reassure others I am knowledgeable about whatever topic of discussion.

I have to think 5 steps ahead to account for any challenges that may arise which can be detrimental to the services I am providing or my career. I’m saying that my workload is more strenuous than other women and men in my field.

The communication is different. The expectation is different. The pay is different. The leadership and the mentoring opportunities are different for an African American SHE in STEM. That’s real! But no one wants to truly acknowledge that.

STEM is a field that requires intellect, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but with that involves a lot more than you can learn in a textbook. As if it’s not already hard work to be a SHE in the field, in order to obtain and sustain a pleasurable career in STEM you have to put in a little extra work. You have to set goals, timelines and hold yourself accountable for the good, bad or delayed outcomes  You have to know how to seek learning opportunities so that you may continue to grow and gain expertise in the field. You have to network and make the right connections in order for doors to open up for you. You have to create and build a resume that no one can pass up or turn down. You literally have to put all that you have and some!

And that is exactly why sharing my story with all, especially young SHEs aspiring to enter the field, is important. I did not have a mentor or a blog to read to give me insight on STEM and all of its possibilities. It just felt right, so I went for it. Every day, I make a measurable difference in a client’s life, but long-term, I want to make a difference in the field.

I have accomplished a lot thus far for my circumstances and age but in actuality, this is just the beginning. My goal is to raise awareness and create a platform for all SHEs to reach their full professional potential.

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where all SHEs from all walks of life were equally represented and respected in the professional arena?

ICYMI: Check out our other SHEs in STEM posts-Melissa Karlin, Rachel StuveKolisa Yola Sinyanya, Kara LutonStephanie ProvenceSamantha Hau, I Don’t Know How To Science, Taylor Breland, and Kelsey Caffy. And don’t miss out on SHEspeaks: Rainu Ittycheriah with Eventbrite (ep 5).

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