Grad student Creea Shannon seeks to inspire young people to pursue careers in science
She doesn’t want students thinking about careers to be as unaware of STEM fields as she was as a girlAugust 21, 2023
Creea Shannon. Photo by Erin O. Smith
Creea Shannon is a former intern for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy team and is currently a PhD student in Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt – a pursuit that would keep most people busy enough.
Shannon makes time for a few other things, though – including running a book drive to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and writing a children’s book of her own.
“Anything I do in my career, I’m all about uplifting and elevating others,” she said.
Shannon learned about STEM careers when she was in college at Middle Tennessee State University, where she started out as a business administration major. But after taking her first science class, she had found her calling.
“Creea’s enthusiasm for her studies lights up a research meeting. She thinks about how her work can contribute to STEM education and is always creating opportunities for others to join her in supporting the Nashville community.”
“It wasn’t easy, but I knew that this was where I was supposed to be. This was my field. I changed my major to biochemistry, and I have no regrets.”
After her undergraduate degree, Shannon earned two master’s degrees, one in biochemistry and the other in data science.
As she was pursuing these degrees, she also volunteered her time reading books to underserved elementary school students.
She noticed something about the books she was reading, and it disturbed her.
She recalls thinking, “Where is the diversity? Where is the representation? Where are the STEM books?”
She also recalls another thought that came to her: “What can I do to make a difference?”
The first thing she did to make a difference was launch a book drive to provide diverse books to children in underserved Nashville communities. She set a goal of 200 donated books. She received more than 1,000.
She then set out to write a children’s book of her own, titled “STEM Inspires Me!”. This picture book follows the character Cre the Scientist, who highlights how STEM is used in everyday life. It also highlights STEM careers and hidden figures who contributed to the advancement of STEM fields.
She said she doesn’t want students thinking about careers to be as unaware of STEM fields as she was as a girl.
“I want them to learn from my mistakes,” she said. “Literacy is an essential investment when it comes to breaking generational curses.”
Her time at the White House as a Science and Technology Policy Intern was spent working to ensure equity, inclusion and integrity in all aspects of science and technology.
“Creea’s enthusiasm for her studies lights up a research meeting. She thinks about how her work can contribute to STEM education and is always creating opportunities for others to join her in supporting the Nashville community,” said Stephany Duda, PhD, associate professor of Biomedical Informatics, who is Shannon’s research mentor.
Shannon is married with two children of her own, and she credits her upbringing as her inspiration to educate children from underrepresented groups. She was born and raised in Nashville, and she started helping others at a young age.
“Every week, we were out in the streets feeding the homeless, going to hospitals singing, going to nursing homes vising the elderly, [participating in] Meals on Wheels, fixing meals for the community. I just love helping those in the community.
“At the time, I didn’t know [that] me and my family didn’t have much, but we had love. It’s still in me to show that love to others.”
Part of Shannon’s studies in the PhD program at Vanderbilt uses computational methods to address health disparities in marginalized groups. She has research interests in HIV and the prevention and treatment of diseases that are prevalent in underserved communities. Once she graduates, Shannon plans to start a nonprofit in Nashville to educate children in underrepresented groups.
She started social media platforms, We Are Medicine, and Black Girls in Healthcare — that are designed to overcome racial disparities in health care by showcasing Black women in the health and STEM professions.
“I want that little Black child to know that yes, you can be a scientist, an engineer or a doctor. You can be anything you want.”