Dr. Wagstaff’s Bio
Iris R. Wagstaff, Ph.D. is a scientist, educator, mentor, researcher and STEM advocate. She currently serves as STEM Program Director in the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Department of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) where she manages programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels focused on broadening participation in STEM and workforce development. Prior to joining EHR, she served as a 2015-2017 AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Institute of Justice Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences where she led an agency-wide strategic diversity and inclusion initiative. She is a native of Goldsboro, NC and obtained a BS and MS in Chemistry from the UNC-Greensboro and NC A&T State Universities respectively. She worked as a research chemist at the Dow Chemical Company for 15 years where she led analytical project teams to solve customer problems, as well as, company-wide diversity initiatives. She has over 20 years of STEM outreach and advocacy developing informal science programs, resourcing parents, and collaborating with K-12 science teachers to develop engaging curricula that help students connect the science they learn in the classroom to their everyday lives. Dr. Wagstaff has expertise in culturally relevant pedagogy, mentoring, and building strategic partnerships between industry, academia, and community organizations to advance STEM education. She left the chemical industry to obtain a Ph.D. in science education research and policy analysis from NC State University where her research focused on employing statistical models to examine factors that predict science self- efficacy, science identity, and STEM career intent in high school students. Her research also focuses on the role of informal science and outreach experiences for students who are underrepresented in STEM. She serves on the Boards of several organizations that include the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), the Chemical Society of Washington (CSW), and Science, Engineering, and Math Links (SEM). She also currently serves as an adjunct chemistry professor at her Alma Mater – UNC-Greensboro leading diversity and inclusion efforts. She has received several honors for her STEM outreach that include the 2015 NOBCChE Henry McBay Outstanding Teaching Award, a 2016 nomination for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), the 2017 Women of Color in STEM K-12 Promotion of Education Award, the 2018 NOBCChE Presidential Award, and the 2019 BEYA Science Trailblazer Award.
Why did you get into STEM?
I am from a small town in Eastern NC- Goldsboro, NC, which is the home of the Seymour Johnson Airforce Base (this base used to house the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets for the Vietnam war). The main crop is tobacco. I always loved science growing up, but was also heavily involved in political science, student government and loved English as well. I was also heavily involved in the arts (classical piano and singing), the band, and cheerleading. As a child of a divorced single mom, I always wanted to find a good job so I could take care of her. Science was my vehicle to a better life. I decided to major in chemistry in high school when I took AP Chemistry my junior year. Chemistry just clicked for me. I could see electrons moving in my head 🙂 I knew that chemistry would allow me to make a great income and do work that I loved. I got a BS in chemistry from the University of NC in Greensboro and an MS in chemistry from North Carolina A&T State University. I then worked at Dow Chemical in PA for 15 years as a research scientist leading project teams. I left a successful career as a research scientist in 2007 to move back to NC to care for my mom. She later passed away and I started all over again. I taught chemistry for 2 years at a local community college and then decided to enter a Ph.D. Program in science education at NC state university to leverage my passion for STEM education, outreach, and advocacy. I have been doing STEM outreach for 25 years developing informal science programs for students of color, mentoring, resourcing parents, and providing professional development for science teachers. After obtaining my Ph.D. in 2014 I served as a 2015-2017 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the Department of Justice – National Institute of Justice where I developed an agency-wide strategic diversity and inclusion initiative. After my fellowship, I started a position as a STEM Program Director at AAAS in Washington DC where I lead national initiatives focused on broadening participation in STEM and workforce development.
What do you consider your greatest achievements?
My greatest achievements are making my Mom and my hometown proud. I am also proud of my 25 years of STEM outreach in the community and students I have mentored over the years. I am also proud of the honors I have been given that include a 2016 nomination for the NSF Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), the 2017 Women of Color Promotion of Education Award, the 2018 NOBCChE (National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers), and the 2019 BEYA (Black Engineer of the Year) Science Trailblazer Award.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them?
As a woman in STEM and a woman of color, in particular, I have faced many challenges at both the educational and career levels that include discrimination, not being rewarded or acknowledged for my contributions, low expectations, and stereotypes. I continue to overcome these challenges by having a strong sense of self and pride in my heritage and background, which my Mom instilled in me. She taught me that I could do anything I put my mind to. I continue to be a positive role model and representation of African American scientists and women of color in STEM to dispel unwarranted myths and false preconceptions of people of color. I also continue to highlight the achievements of my fellow scientists of color in STEM so that the world knows of our contributions to society.