Marine biology and biotechnology major Raven Harrison ’23 chose to leave her Gainesville, Fla. home to attend Florida Southern College because she wanted to attend a small college where she could have one-on-one interactions with professors.
Black women are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine, and Math (STEMM), making Harrison’s double major in STEMM fields noteworthy. Both her majors require hands-on experience and FSC prides itself on experiential, engaged learning.
“FSC has given me a lot of opportunity to gain skills that I can fully utilize in my field,” Harrison said.
Her memberships in Rho Rho Rho (Tri-Rho), the marine biology honor society, and the Scientista Foundation, an organization for women in STEMM, are indicative of her desire to interact with others who are interested in marine biology and biotechnology as much as possible. Harrison’s interest in those two fields was piqued at an early age.
“When I was three years old, my mom took my sister and me to SeaWorld for the first time,” Harrison said. “We went to see the orca show ‘Believe.’ During the first half of the show, I saw the orca breach the water in all of its majesty and instantly fell in love with marine biology. Since then, my interest in the field has changed to be more elasmobranch (a subclass of Chondrichthyes or cartilaginous fish, including sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish) and microbe (organism that can be seen only through a microscope) based, which is how I chose my second major, biotechnology. I wanted to take more classes that were lab-based to help me learn more about microbiology.”
One of the first professors Harrison met when she came to FSC was Assistant Professor of Marine Biology Dr. Jason Macrander Ph.D., who has contributed to many of the positive experiences she has had on campus, from trips to the Florida Keys, to helping her with graduate school discussions, and the first ‘Pie Your Professor’ event hosted by the College’s Black Student Union (BSU).
Having the right support is important when there are imperceptible barriers in one’s academic and career paths.
“Being a Black woman in STEMM is hard, especially pursuing a predominately White field like marine biology,” Harrison said. “You are constantly battling imposter syndrome and working extremely hard to get recognized for your efforts. However, it's definitely worth it in the end, especially when I can one day help more women of color feel comfortable entering and contributing to this field.”
Harrison feels FSC has given her numerous opportunities to gain skills that she can utilize in her field.
“This past summer alone I was allowed to be a part of the FSC Elasmobranch Lab, where I got hands on experience handling sharks, collecting samples, etc.,” she said. “The classes are also geared towards making sure I have actual employability skills, from field experience to manuscript writing. I also get to work on my own research that connects to interest in future research I would like to pursue.”
Harrison says incoming freshmen should be aware that four years will pass right before their eyes.
“This is the time in your life where you are free to genuinely explore who you are and what you value in your lifetime,” she said. “Don’t be scared to do something new or meet new people. You never know what those interactions will lead to, especially if you put your genuine self forward.”
She is an excellent example of a student who came to campus and got involved. She is the current president of BSU and the Vice-President of Tri-Rho. She lives on campus and is a Resident Advisor for one of the Star Apartments buildings.
Harrison is equally invested in preserving and sharing Black culture as she is in her STEMM pursuits. As the president of FSC’s BSU, she has spearheaded events and activities that focus on sharing Black History. After researching the Harlem Renaissance, she initiated a “modern Harlem renaissance” at the College. She brought the idea to highlight Black artists forward to the BSU executive board, and eventually organized and hosted two Harlem Renaissance events at the Polk Museum of Art in collaboration with Dr. H. Alexander Rich, Executive Director of the Polk Museum of Art and the George & Dorothy Forsythe Endowed Chair in Art History & Museum Studies.
“The reason I wanted to put on the Harlem Renaissance is to be able to highlight Black artist from all across our campus,” Harrison said. “More often than not, Black creatives aren't given their flowers until they are well into the grave and the BSU wanted to make sure the students and faculty would be able to get theirs now.”