Assistant Professor of Biology, Undergraduate Science Program Research Coordinator, Bay Path University; Age 35
It may have taken Yadilette Rivera Colón a while to find her passion — but she’s certainly been a force in helping other young women find theirs.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, she first enrolled in a nursing program, but soon decided she’d prefer to become a medical doctor. After a tough first semester of study, she worked at a dental office but found the work tedious.
Then she interviewed for a summer internship with Craig Martin, professor of Chemistry at UMass Amherst. The program was already full, but he saw something in her and brought her on anyway. As it turned out, she recalled, “he had wanted to be a dentist, too, and realized it wasn’t for him, and he thought I should have a backup plan.”
Rivera Colón was hooked when she helped conduct and publish research through the program, experiencing the thrill of sharing new knowledge with the world. “I gave everything else up to go into research,” she said, and eventually earned a doctorate at UMass in molecular and cellular biology.
Her role at Bay Path is multi-faceted, and her impact extends well beyond campus. In addition to helping students navigate a path to careers in science, her outreach in the community, especially in Holyoke, helps young people, especially women of color, discover the possibilities of STEM.
“It’s a leaky pipeline,” she said, partly explaining why women remain underrepresented in the sciences. “They don’t always have the support and resources in place. Or they hear, ‘you’re not good at math,’ or ‘you’re not good at science.’ But it’s a skill — you can get better, and I’m going to show you how.”
Rivera Colón creates bridges in other ways, too. She co-advises the Women in STEM organization at Bay Path and co-organizes its speaker series, and also facilitates training sessions that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the STEM field. Through volunteer work with Girls Inc. of the Valley and the Latino Scholarship Fund of Western Massachusetts, she helps girls pursue their college and career goals. And she has led anti-racism trainings for colleagues and students at Bay Path, as well as for staff at MassHire Holyoke.
In short, she’s passionate, and it all started with finding that initial spark. “I tell girls, ‘if you decide to pursue a career in science, you’ll never be bored.’”