Kyla Smith

Former Sun Prairie High School student Kyla Smith will graduate this month from the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater, then plans to attend Rutgers University to pursue a doctoral degree in toxicology.

Former Sun Prairie High School student Kyla Smith is opening doors for herself and future generations of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Smith will graduate from the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater next month. She will then be attending Rutgers University to pursue a doctoral degree in toxicology.

“I want to influence policy regarding contaminant exposures, particularly for communities that don’t have a voice within the government,” said Smith. “My goal is to ensure there is not a disproportionate amount of contaminant exposure in communities of color and low-income communities by educating policymakers on the negative effects contaminants have on the human body.”

Smith decided to apply to colleges as a first-generation student in the spring of 2018. When she first entered college at the UW — Whitewater, she had no idea what she wanted to do.

Ultimately, Smith said she decided to major in biology since she loved her science and math courses in high school. Professors and mentors at her university later introduced her to the field of toxicology, which allows her to combine her passion for issues relating to healthcare and environmental justice.

However, getting to where she is today was not always easy.

“I have faced micro-aggressions as a woman in STEM, particularly a black woman in STEM,” said Smith. “I have had to prove my intelligence multiple times in groups of mainly white males. There were times I felt like I did not belong just because of the lack of representation of people that look and identify the same as I do in my classes.”

It was no deterrent to Smith and, she said, it shouldn’t be to other young women intending to enter the STEM fields.

“I want all girls pursuing a degree in STEM to know they belong,” Smith said. “You deserve to be where you are.”