This Pioneering PhD Took Advantage Of Every Opportunity

Math equations on chalk board
Via Flickr
Abeni Jones
January 8, 2020

When you’ve never heard of a profession, or never seen any people who look like you do it, it’s hard to imagine it for yourself.

Gloria Conyers Hewitt set her sights high, but every time she was introduced to an even bigger opportunity and challenge, she chose to take a leap into the unknown.

She went to Fisk University in 1952, intending to be a nurse - a solid, respectable job. But a professor noticed her intellect and encouraged her to take calculus. Despite not having seen any Black women mathematicians, she went for it.

And so began a journey she never saw coming.

After getting a degree in math, she made plans to become a math teacher. But another professor opened a door. He thought she could become a PhD.

When she got her PhD - only the third Black woman to have a PhD in math - she started teaching, researching, and winning awards for her many contributions to the field.

“My life in mathematics was, and still to a great extent is, shaped by opening doors,” she said. “I have always taken advantage and walked in.” 

We have to take advantage of doors opened for us, even when nobody’s walked through them before. We can also use our own positions to open doors for others, because once we’ve done it, we’re an example for the next generation - like Dr. Hewitt!

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