We are very excited to feature Anicia Miller, an extraordinary young women who has been working with Science Club for Girls since 2021, first as a volunteer mentor in our Science Clubs and then as our Communications and Development Intern. Anicia has brought so much talent, passion, and hard work to her position at SCFG: creating social media content, updating our website and database, and assisting with donor communications, among many other tasks.
Anicia was set to begin her undergraduate studies at Harvard in 2020. However, several years of challenges have kept Anicia in her hometown of Chicago—first the pandemic, then major heath challenges for both her mother and grandmother. We are over the moon that Anicia will at last be coming to Cambridge this fall to continue her studies and join our staff in person!
What follows is Ancia's telling of her own STEM life story...from childhood to the present, distilled to capture her admirable courage, grit, and tenacity.
"Growing up, I knew that my family was impoverished even though we didn’t live like we were. As an only child I was spoiled with opportunities and my mother instilled in me that anything can be done no matter what your socioeconomic status is. She allowed me to have a choose-my-own-adventure childhood as I was exposed to visual arts, performance arts, took classical piano lessons for 10 years, participated in cheer, dance, debate, and found my passion in life when I was exposed to robotics and computer science in 5th grade.
But with all of this support received from my family, there was great animosity received from my peers and other kids my age. I was bullied throughout all of K-12. From the way I looked, to the way I wore my hair, to being accused of “acting and talking too white” (whatever that means). I felt isolated and a strong disdain for kids my age began to brew. I flocked to teachers, parents, mentors, and other influential adults in my life as they recognized my talents and passions and gave me props. This experience—being exposed to successful adults from all different backgrounds—is what built my maturity at an early age. This is when I began to craft my lifelong goals and plan for a successful future.
By the age of 10, I thought I had it all figured out. After attending an all girls computer science summer camp at Illinois Institute of Technology, I knew I wanted to go into engineering, but I still had an innate passion for medicine due to my own intricate health issues growing up. So, I Googled “what career combines engineering and medicine” and the result: biomedical engineering. A fairly new field, and in this search one of the first results was the Harvard website. My goal was set: I would go to Harvard to study biomedical engineering and create prosthetic devices. I’d eventually retire and create a nonprofit organization to give underrepresented students hands-on experience in STEM. It was really that simple in my head! I spent the summer researching everything I needed to do to get there and even the Harvard professors and classes I would need to take once I got there.
After finally leaving the trials and tribulations of middle school, high school is where I flourished. I found a welcoming community of people who pushed each other academically. I found teachers who validated my achievements and inspired me to go the extra mile. I attended Girls’ Leadership Worldwide, a 10-day summer experience where we learned how to be a leader in the world and built lifelong connections with girls from all over the world. Here, I met with an executive of the New York STEM Cell Foundation who helped me further craft my passion for prosthetic advancement. I was a LINK Unlimited Scholar, a group of Black scholarship-recipients striving for excellence and uplifting each other. This began to bring me to a place where I felt comfortable in my own community instead of an outcast like before. I learned how to put myself in the faces of successful people that I strived to be like, bringing me to cold email the head professor at the Northwestern Prosthetics and Orthotics Center and craft a mentorship with someone whose job I intended to take within the next 10-15 years.
I attended the Summer Science Program, a 6-week biochemistry research camp at Purdue University that truly elevated my experience in STEM and working on a research team. Being the only Black woman and Black person there, I was brought back to my lifelong passion of ensuring that I wouldn’t be the only Black person represented in spaces like this. And probably the most impactful decision I made was joining the FIRST robotics team in high school. It allowed me to find my voice and be mentored by students with the same passion for STEM. There were no financial burdens and I was given all of the resources I needed to feel welcomed as a freshman, feel a sense of belonging as a sophomore, feel confidence as the construction assistant as a junior, and feel like a true leader as the president my senior year.
Finally, my dream came true on Ivy Day in 2020 when I was accepted into all of my dream schools: Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, and Harvard. It was a feat that to me felt like nothing. Not because it wasn’t a difficult accomplishment, but because I had no doubt in my mind that I could do it. Surrounding myself with adults who believed in me allowed me to feel in my heart that even the most challenging goals could be achieved.
I thought I would go on to finally live out those dreams until COVID hit and I went from preparing to be fully immersed on campus to buying a new desk to take online classes from my childhood bedroom. I struggled to balance a college lifestyle while still at home with my parents. But amongst this, I was graced with the opportunity to volunteer for Science Club for Girls (SCFG) as a mentor. Not only was mentoring in Science Clubs enriching, but each semester I was shipped a giant package of supplies to guide K-2 students through science experiments and demonstrations. At last, I had a home science lab! I was so moved by this experience and grateful that it allowed my lifelong goals to come back to the forefront of my mind amid all of the pandemic craziness. In 2021, I was hired as the Communications and Marketing Intern at SCFG and was thrilled to have my first real job at an organization that I felt so connected to. It was a full circle moment.
But then, I was hit with another challenge and I can say for certain this was the biggest challenge I have ever endured to date. My mother had a stroke in 2021. My life suddenly fell apart. I went from an adult still living like a child with guidance and instruction, to a real adult faced with real adult problems within seconds. I had no time to be sad, no time to process the loss of my mother’s independence. I had to pivot and keep moving. I found more independence and made life-altering decisions for my family. I had to lead; there was no one else to do it.
It wasn’t until the next year, 2022, that everything hit. I felt absolutely lost and trapped. I lost all hope of going back to school. The pressures of taking care of my mom (who still needs a lot of assistance) and grandma (who also has health issues) and working two jobs took a huge toll on my mental health the entire year. I was constantly seeing my peers advance in life, making big career and education moves, but I was still here, at this desk in my childhood home. But I reminded myself that nothing lasts forever. Where you are today is not where you will be tomorrow or next week or next year.
This year, 2023, I regained my hope and confidence in my abilities to reach those dreams that I had created so long ago. I revisited my life philosophies and a biblical quote that is so near and dear to my heart. Sirach 2:4-6, “For in fire, gold is tested, and the chosen in the crucible of humiliation.” In life, we will constantly go through challenges, but as long as we keep our faith and morals, we will overcome them and find our best, purest selves.
I recently found that old notebook I had when I was 10 where I wrote down the Harvard courses I needed to take and the professors who ran those courses. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized that two of those professors actually taught me my freshman year. This was my wake up call that brought me back to that sheer ambition that I had as a child. The realization of the power of manifestation.
In April, I went to watch my high school robotics team compete in the annual Chicago competition and was again brought back to a time when I felt that anything was possible. After the event, I met a parent of one of the current team members and introduced myself as an alum. After giving her my name, she told me how excited she was to meet me. Her daughter, Katie, the current president of the robotics team, was so inspired by me during my time as president. She told me that I was the reason Katie continued with robotics and pushed herself to get into a competitive college was because of me. Through my leadership and success, she believed all of her dreams could manifest also.
Reflecting on my upbringing, there was no one who had any doubt that I could achieve every dream fathomable. As a child, the trusted adults around me continuously manifested educational and career success in my life. So when I am faced with challenges and roadblocks, my initial thought and firm belief is that I can get past this.
I recognize not only how lucky I am to be instilled with such confidence but how so many other people do not have this luxury. So many of our future leaders, future scientists, future teachers, future change-makers aren’t shown that anything is possible.
And that’s why I feel that my purpose in life, education, and career is to show people just like me that they can also be a leader. A leader is so much more than an influencer in the public eye. A leader is so much more than someone in a position of power. A leader is someone who can adapt to change and meet challenges head on. A leader is someone who has come to find their true selves and continually invites new versions of themselves as they progress. A leader is someone who tackles issues with an open mindset, a growth mindset. A leader is someone who sets a good example for those around them and strives for high achievement no matter who is or isn’t watching.
I have grown so much as a leader during my time here at SCFG. Thanks to SCFG, I was given the opportunity to grow in my career, learn how to advocate for myself, and have real-world practice in team work and team building. It has been nothing short of an honor to be on this side of the organization as a staff member knowing that my work is actively helping students who look like me, have experienced similar adversity as me, and have the drive and passion for a rich future like me.
I am so excited to continue my leadership journey and story, for it is far from over. I will soon be able to fulfill my childhood dreams, studying at my dream school. I’m excited to be an example to underrepresented youth like myself and show how your wildest dreams are attainable when you have passion and drive and learn how to fight for the resources you need and want. When you learn how to be a leader in your own life and seek mentors and influential people who you can see your future self in, you can achieve so much more than you may even fathom. I can attest to that and I only hope that those inspired by me can feel fearless and unstoppable in their journeys."
Anicia, thank you for sharing your story with such truth and honesty, and for being an incredible role model of passion, resilience, and determination for us all. We are so lucky to have you in the SCFG family!