In 2016, triple gator Natalie King (B.S. ‘09, M.Ed. ‘11, Ph.D. ‘16) proposed in the final slide of her dissertation presentation that she would one day conduct a longitudinal study exploring the STEM experiences of African American girls. Recently, she was awarded a $1.1 million National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award to realize that vision.
King, an assistant professor of science education at Georgia State University, will be conducting a five-year longitudinal study titled “Black Girl Brilliance and STEM Identity Development” to explore how middle and high school aged African American girls develop positive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) identities.
Working with the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, a STEM-certified, single-gender middle/high school, King will create culturally relevant resources with teachers, parents and students and distribute them through free platforms. She will document the evolving student experience as Black girls progress through middle and secondary education.
King shared that her vision is to transform the current narrative in literature regarding the capabilities of African American girls by amplifying their voices and providing them a platform to define their own stories.
“My goal is to represent the girls’ stories in ways that are much more authentic and representative of their lived experiences,” she said. “I no longer want them to be misrepresented.”
Intrinsic to King is a motivation to help children realize and maximize their innate potential.
“That’s been my passion, my goal,” she said. “It makes me smile, and it’s why I continue doing this work.”
King shared that she believes her path truly found her — as she initially intended to become a pediatrician.
She gained her bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida in Physiology and Kinesiology, and while taking a break before applying to medical school, began teaching chemistry and biology at Eastside High School.
“I wanted my gap years to be meaningful,” she said.
Her teaching experiences led her to pursue an online M.Ed. in Special Education at the College of Education to strengthen her pedagogical practices to better support all types of learners in her classroom. However, she still had every intention of attending medical school thereafter.
It was not until her last semester of the program when she was recommended to take Associate Professor of Science Education Rose Pringle’s Inquiry-Based Science Teaching course, that her path changed forever.
“I loved science, I loved kids, and to me that equated to becoming a pediatrician,” she said.
Near the end of the course though, Pringle met with King and inquired about her next steps as she recognized the clear science educator within her.
“…a doctorate where I teach teachers how to teach children or continue interacting with children directly,” she said. “…that’s when the game changed for me.”
Since then, King has never turned back. She went on to complete her doctorate with the College of Education in Science Education and made significant impacts on the Gainesville community both alongside Pringle and through her own community-based endeavors.
“It’s really been full speed ahead since I changed directions,” she said.
During her doctorate, King collaborated with Pringle on various UF projects including U-FUTures, an NSF-funded project focused on transforming how middle school science education is taught.
Additionally, as she had to leave her role at Eastside High to pursue her Ph.D., she found the transition out of the classroom was challenging and decided to build a STEM-focused curriculum as part of her dissertation work to hold onto her teaching.
“I didn’t want to let that piece of me go,” she said.
King’s dissertation, titled “Awakening and elevating the voices of African American girls: Counterstories of informal and formal STEM learning experiences” centered on establishing and evaluating a community-based and STEM-centric program. Her goal was to gain a deeper understanding of the STEM learning experiences of African American girls in the middle grades, and how increased exposure to STEM could influence their decision-making in and out of the classroom.
“We were literally just planting seeds,” she said.
King found through the program, girls were more likely to seek opportunities to get involved in STEM and developed connections and an affinity for local places, like UF, Santa Fe College and GRU, that they visited during the camp’s field trips.
Culminating from these experiences, combined with a STEM learning conceptual framework established by King and Pringle (2019), King was inspired to pursue her current NSF project and take the work one step further.
“I envisioned a project dedicated to exploring how Black girls develop STEM identities over time to provide more authentic representations of their stories,” she said.
Building upon these experiences, King will not only examine the girls’ experiences, but also the roles of administrators, teachers, parents, and community partners.
“I’m hoping to replace the deficit narrative by highlighting the brilliance of Black girls when afforded appropriate and equitable supports, resources and opportunities,” she said.
King shared that after the completion of this study she will not only develop more thoughts but more intriguing questions to answer through her continued work.
“There’s so much to be learned,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”
King intends to stay in this vein, advocating for equity in science teaching and learning and advancing the representation of African American girls in STEM, throughout the rest of her career.
“I can see myself doing this forever,” she said.