Dr. Nikaela S. Flournoy is on a mission to make a difference in the in the STEM field, as well as in the lives of her children.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Nikaela Flournoy. I am 36 years old. I grew up in Fairfield, Alabama. I am the mom of two awesome kids, Cecil III (6) and Yara (2). My husband, Dr. Cecil Flournoy, Jr., is a math specialty instructor at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA). As for myself, I am a graduate of Alabama A&M University (BS in biology), The University of Iowa (MS in microbiology) and The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa (Ph.D. in biological sciences). Since earning my Ph.D., I’ve worked as a postdoctoral research scientist for the Alabama Water Institute at UA in Tuscaloosa. Most recently, I completed the Mirzayan Science Policy Fellowship at the National Academies of Science in Washington, DC. My research pursuits are at the intersection of the environment and public health. I’ve investigated and published on the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on the biodiversity and ecosystem services in marshes and nearby habitats. My work involved combining bench, field, and computational approaches to profile microbial communities in coastal areas affected by the spill. I’m also an advocate for the importance of early engagement in science, resource accessibility, and retention of underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) fields.
What do you want your kids to learn from your life?
I want Cecil and Yara to learn that it is important to be fair and equitable in how you treat others. My prayer is that one day they will realize the importance of love for family, be just as dedicated in their career paths, and make a positive impact on society. I want them to understand that just because someone tells you no doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Above all, I want Cecil and Yara to know that developing and nurturing a good foundation in their faith in God will prove critical when they encounter challenging times.
What are the best and worst things about living in Birmingham?
While I have never been a resident of Birmingham, I’ve had both multigenerational and educational connections to the city. Birmingham is an absolutely fantastic city that is brimming with energy, engagement, and opportunity. Thinking about where Birmingham was environmentally due to the products of the industrial revolution, it’s great to see we have a Birmingham that welcomes opportunities to reinvest in its 99 neighborhoods using green strategies. Incorporating green infrastructure and educational programs towards promoting environmentally sustainable practices is becoming more prevalent; it will prove beneficial in encouraging the next generation of STEM students as well as the City of Birmingham.
What is your proudest personal moment?
My proudest personal moment was when I publicly defended my dissertation at UA in Tuscaloosa. The significance of that moment was not lost on me; it was a heavy but freeing feeling. My family was there, my church family was there, an overwhelming feeling that my late grandparents were right there beside me emboldening me through years of research and education, it was all there.
What is your proudest mom moment?
As I said before, my son is 6 and my daughter is 2. My son will show his sister how to perform a task or how to pronounce a word correctly if she gets it wrong. It’s amazing to see how they interact when that’s happening. My daughter, Yara, is looking for his opinions and my son, Cecil, is providing his sister encouragement and words of affirmation as she is learning. It’s pretty awesome that God has blessed me not just to be their mom, but to experience this fleeting moment in witnessing how my kids are developing and how they will eventually lean on each other later in life.
What is your proudest wife moment?
I can’t narrow it down to a specific instance because there are a number of them. One of my proudest wife moments, in particular, is ongoing. My husband has a profound enthusiasm for math, hence his Ph.D. in the subject. He has a way of conveying this enthusiasm in his instruction and engagement with the math/science students at ASFA wherein the students can understand the everyday utility of math. The atmosphere my husband has created in his classrooms has strongly influenced students’ majors for college as well as their post-graduate plans.
What advice do you have for women who want to pursue advanced degrees who are married with younger children?
I think having a great village, whether it’s family or friends surrounding you, is vital to balancing your education, career aspirations, and home life. If you surround yourself with people wanting you to succeed, you will be able to achieve your goals.
What’s next for you?
I aim to apply my interests in water quality, coastal resource sustainability, and my dedication to broadening participation in STEM toward influencing policy and program development in areas of need at the state and local level.