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Calling Dr. Bryant

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When Shaundra Daily’s mother was a girl, the family lived in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. And it was with love that Shaundra’s grandmother—a maid her entire life—told her daughter that “you can be a secretary or you can be a maid—those are the two options.”

Shaundra’s mother thought about it, sized up those options, and decided it would be best to go to school and learn how to be a secretary. As Shaundra said when she told us this story, “that was the time.”

The doctor as a young soccer player.

Things had changed some by the time Shaundra was a girl. And there were more possibilities. “My mother completely rejected the notion of limits,” Shaundra said, “which is why she always said, ‘whatever you want to do, do it.’” In fact, when Shaundra displayed an early gift for math and science, her mother had her own way of helping to cultivate those talents (and FYI, Shaundra’s maiden name was “Bryant”):

“If I was in the house and she was downstairs [and wanted my attention], she would always act like she was on a PA in a hospital, and she’d say, ‘SHH–Dr. Bryant. Calling Dr. Bryant.’ And she would always do that and get a kick out of it. So now that I’m actually finished with my dissertation, I am a doctor. My mom gets a kick out of the fact that she’s literally been saying that my whole life.”

Nowadays, in spite of the fact that she has earned that doctorate and is now an engineer running a company with her husband, Shaundra’s natural humility makes her wary of considering herself a role model. But as her mother has told her, “Regardless of how you feel about it, that’s what you are.” And Shaundra has come around to the idea:

“The numbers of women and minorities that are in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are so small that when you are one, you do become a role model. I understand that there is this probability when I get in front of a group of girls or when I get in front of a group of African-Americans, that I do serve in this role. And I’m open, and I’m honest, and I share as much as possible.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the doctor is in the house.

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Tom Miller

    Tom Miller is the producer of “Secret Life” and co-editor of the site’s blog. His job involves interviewing scientists and engineers, getting them to tell their amazing stories and occasionally trying to get them to sing. It’s a fantastic gig and Tom is extremely grateful for it.