Aliyah Griffith Becomes UNC’s First Black Marine Sciences M.S. Graduate

Aliyah Griffith Becomes UNC’s First Black Marine Sciences M.S. Graduate

From a young age, Aliyah Griffith loved everything about the water. Now a marine scientist Giffith wants to increase the “fem” in “stem.”

Griffith is a third-year Ph.D. student at UNC Chapel Hill. According to the Daily Tar Heel, she defended her marine science master’s thesis this month, making her the first African American student to be accepted and receive a degree from the University’s 50-year marine science graduate program.

The Bajan American said her thesis addresses the influence of hurricanes on the skeletal growth of coral, specifically in the Florida Keys.

As a self-proclaimed, lifelong learner, Griffith discovered the lack of women of color in STEM, particularly in the aquatic sciences. She became eager to make strides beyond the university and worked for years to increase representation for people of color in marine sciences.

In 2016, after completing an internship during her sophomore and junior years, Griffith founded MahoganyMermaids, a non-profit mobile corporation with a mission to “encourage young people of color, especially Blacks and African Americans, to join the sciences, specifically the aquatic sciences,” as per MahoganyMermaids’ webpage.

To date, the organization has helped aquatic science programs that promote community, mentorship, and education.

“[MahagonyMermaids] showed me all the possibilities of research, traveling, and learning of new cultures across the world, and I thought that everyone should have the same opportunity,” Griffith told Our Ocean and You.

“Without that internship I would have never known what it truly meant to be a marine scientist. I then created a nonprofit to promote and uplift children of color to get involved in the aquatic sciences.”

Griffith said the nonprofit is currently focused on building a virtual community to provide resources, including scholarships, information, and funding from other sources.

Additionally, Griffith maintains memberships with the Initiative for Minority Excellence and Black Graduate and Professional Student Association. She is also active in organizations at UNC that help support graduate students through professional development and other opportunities.

Griffith advises young scientists, artists, and explorers to pursue their passion.

“When you know or find your passion and you trust your instincts, do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.”

“They may say you aren’t smart enough; this wouldn’t be a good fit for you, or even that you can’t complete something because of how demanding or hard it can be. You know yourself better than anyone else and you determine your own fate,” she said.