How I Overcame the STEM Gap to Have a Successful Science Career

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an aspiration to create and transform. That is what made me fall in love with science at an early age. I can trace my interest in science back to two passions I had as a child: flowers and nutritious food.

I was intrigued by flowers and the variations in scents. Seeing flowers grow exemplified a magical process for me: I would pick them, smell them, and experiment with extracting their fragrance. In addition, my family belonged to a cooperative and we had a home garden where we cultivated vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

That environment nourished my love for making nutritious foods available on a large scale. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking homemade healthy foods to share with our local community.

To stay true to both of my passions, I went on to study Biochemistry and I’m currently pursuing a  Master’s degree in Food Science.

Succeeding as a Black Woman in the STEM Field

I knew the path I had chosen was not one without challenges. Although women make up nearly half of all employees in the U.S. economy, they hold only 29 percent of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) jobs. Women of color face an even greater lack of representation, with Black and Hispanic women accounting for only 2 percent of engineers.

Sheila Cooper

However, I was determined to succeed, and I found in Herbalife Nutrition the place to do so. I joined the company over 11 years ago and I’ve been working in various technical capacities as an engineer in the Research and Development (R&D) area at our facilities in Winston Salem, Lake Forest, as well as with Corporate contract manufacturers.

In my role supervising R&D technical operations, I help develop a variety of our nutrition products including our flagship Formula 1 and protein supplements as well as products that support immunity and heart health. My responsibilities include performing R&D trials on new and existing formulas to evaluate manufacturability and asses mass-scale production, as well as mentoring regional R&D teams on creating new formulas to ensure the quality of our products worldwide.

Herbalife Nutrition RnD Team

This job has given me the opportunity to become a well-rounded professional, skilled in sensory evaluation, coaching, product development, research and development, and food processing. Knowing that what I do makes a positive difference in people’s lives motivates me every day.

My Advice to Women and Girls of Color in Science

While we cannot deny the gap for women of color in the STEM field, there’s so much we can do to support young women interested in those fields. Having confidence in my abilities and working for a company that values my input has empowered my career in science.

My advice to young women of color in STEM is to let their voices be heard because they have a lot to contribute. Not everyone may agree or understand, but patience and kindness are the keys to success.

I also benefitted a lot from my mentors whom I honor and respect. Without their tremendous help, I would not be the scientist I am today. I encourage young women and girls of color in the STEM field to acquire a mentor, an experienced and trusted advisor, to guide them towards garnering professional achievements.