Dr. Semarhy Quiñones-Soto is passionate about increasing the visibility of women in STEM. In addition to serving as a mentor and advisor to her students, she also volunteers as a STEM Diversity Leader with the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) at Sacramento State University, where she works to promote diversity in science careers at the local and national level. 

Dr. Quiñones-Soto is also a full-time biology lecturer at California State University, Sacramento, a program advisor for the CSU-LSAMP and RISE Programs, and an incredible artist.

Last month, she released ‘Types of Scientists: A Coloring Book for All Ages‘ — a 63-page, beautifully-illustrated book created with the intention of highlighting and promoting “the visibility of women as professionals in science fields.”

It compliments her already-extensive catalog of original, science-themed art which can be purchased on several products, including mugs, stickers, and t-shirts.

Dr. Quiñones-Soto was kind enough to take the time to talk with We Rep STEM about her book, her research, and the importance of representation in STEM.

Read on to learn more.

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Humacao, a medium-size city on the southeast coast of the Spanish-speaking island of Puerto Rico. I moved to California after completing my bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico, Humacao to pursue my Ph.D. degree in microbiology at the University of California, Davis. 

Currently, I work as a full-time biology lecturer at California State University, Sacramento, and as a program advisor for the CSU-LSAMP and RISE Programs to help increase the number of students entering graduate programs. I am very passionate about increasing the visibility of women in the sciences and developing a diverse pool of scientists. I also work as an artist and I use my art as a way to visually communicate my desires to see a more diverse STEM workforce.

What inspired you to start creating science-themed art?

My art project, Types of Scientists, started as a way for me to cope with the stress from work.

Because I am a lecturer (adjunct professor), I am constantly made to feel like I do not belong in science because I do not have a research lab, even though I volunteer as a co-principal investigator for a research group. 

These feelings make me doubt myself, become stressed and it affects my performance at work every time someone brings this up (which is more often than I would like). After reading an article from the Science Council about the 10 Types of Scientists, I learned that lab work is not the only path to be a professional scientist and I felt inspired to draw myself as the “Teacher Scientist”.

That was the first science-themed drawing I made. Then, I kept drawing other types of scientists, but I decided I would only draw them as women.

Despite a recent increase in STEM degrees earned by individuals from historically-underrepresented groups, the representation of women in the workplace is lower when compared to their representation in the U.S. population.

For example, according to the National Science Foundation, Black or African American women, who represent 12.2% of women in the U.S. population, hold 4.2% of science Ph.D. degrees; Latinas or Hispanic women, who represent 13.7% of women in the U.S. population, hold 5.8% of science Ph.D. degrees; and, American Indian or Alaska Native women, who represent 0.6% of women in the U.S. population, hold less than 0.3% of science Ph.D. degrees.

In response to the lack of Black women, women of color, and all individuals who identify as women who study, work, and love science, I create artwork meant to overrepresent them!

Your style is unique. Where do you get some of your artistic inspiration?

I have always loved art, especially fantasy art with fairies and mermaids. And I have always been drawn to the art nouveau and steampunk genres.

So, when I decided to make art to increase the visibility of women in STEM, I wanted to keep the elements of fantasy and use fun styles to depict my illustrations. 

For example, my STEAMpunk Scientists series (where STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) are drawings inspired by the steampunk genre, which envisions a future of steam engines as the main technological advance after the industrial revolution. I add steampunk elements by drawing cogs, old science equipment, goggles, and gas masks for personal protection equipment.

Let’s talk about your book. What was the inspiration behind that?

I have had the idea of publishing an art book for a long time. Initially, I wanted to focus on fantasy art, but I never found the courage. 

Last year, I was encouraged by a friend and fellow Latina in STEM, Dr. Enid Gonzalez-Orta, to share my illustrations of women in STEM through social media, and the public’s response was overwhelmingly positive. As a response to public requests, I opened an online store, where I sell my art as prints, stickers, and other items, which are then shared by the public on social media to advertise the need for inclusion.

Last October, I met with a friend and fellow member of the Society for Advancing Chicano/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Dr. Ahna Skop, who recently published a coloring book about genetics, and she encouraged me to do it too. So, I compiled a list of A-to-Z science fields, careers, and topics to build a coloring book. However, I also wanted to inform people about those careers. So, I turned the coloring book into a resource for advising about scientific careers, while providing coloring pages to be creative, and promote the visibility of women as professionals in science fields.

Do you have any tips or advice for someone who is interested in creating their own artwork to sell as prints, stickers, or in book-form?

My advice is to share your work with the public and see how they respond to your art. Keep track of the pieces that are successful (get “likes”) and engage with your audience. 

A piece of warning would be to find a way to protect your artwork. Images are easily stolen online, and people may try to take credit for your work (it happened to me). Also, follow other artists on social media to learn from them. Some artists share art and business tips, which have been extremely helpful in my development as an independent artist. At the end of the day, have fun! Enjoy your art and continue learning.

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