This June, in honor of Caribbean Heritage Month, Women of Silicon Valley dedicated our platforms to celebrating women of the Caribbean diaspora in STEM. From medicine to telecom to cybersecurity, these #CaribbeanTechies are killing the game and repping their Caribbean roots however far their journeys take them! Read on for some serious inspiration.
In alphabetical order…
1. Arlene Harris-Webber
Arlene Harris-Webber (she/her) is an Area Manager for Verizon Inc., servicing the Central Westchester, New York, and Connecticut regions. She is responsible for building and maintaining the infrastructure for Verizon’s Fios and 5G platforms.
“I was always curious about technology and science and was annoyed at attempts to cast me into ‘traditionally female’ roles. The first time I expressed interest in STEM, I was gently guided to be a teacher or a psychologist instead. I tried that for a while, but I eventually decided I was too curious to be confined to maintaining the status quo. I wanted to explore the “Why?” and the “What if?””
2. Cindy M. P. Duke, MD, PhD, FACOG
Caribbean-born and -raised, Dr. Cindy M. Duke (she/her) is a Johns Hopkins and Yale-trained Physician Scientist and entrepreneur who is board-certified in Gynecology and Obstetrics, as well as Fellowship-trained in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI).
Dr. Duke is the Physician Founder, Medical Director, and Lab Director of the Nevada Fertility Institute, a full-service reproductive clinic and surgical facility in Las Vegas. She is also a Ph.D. trained and award-winning Virologist, whose research interests center on the interplay of viruses with the human immune system.
Dr. Cindy is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Medicine, where she plays a role in Resident and Medical Student Education. Her current research efforts have focused on the intersection of healthcare delivery and technology, and how that can be used to close gaps in accessing medical care.
Argyle Village, Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago.
“Immigrating as a teenager from a village of less than 50 households on an island of 50,000 people to New York City presented a steep learning curve! I overcame it by immersing myself in this new culture while also applying to college. I worked as a sales girl, then cashier, at a $10 store in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn in the mid 1990’s. Upon successfully matriculating into City College of New York / CUNY, I found further support; the student population there was very diverse, including many immigrant students like me.”
3. Eva Greene Wilson
Eva Greene Wilson (she/her) is the Creator of SocaMom.com, a community for families of Caribbean descent, and the Founder of the SocaMom® Summit, the first conference of its kind to address the concerns of the Caribbean diaspora. She uses technology to create and foster community.
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in Aiken, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia.
“I became a single mother a few years after college, so I had to let go of the idea of being an entrepreneur for a while. I had to get a “real job” with “real benefits” and ended up finding a position as an administrative assistant, which allowed me to take care of myself and my son.
When I started, I discovered that the company needed a significant technology overhaul. So I migrated their database from an antiquated DOS-based system, as well as automated several of their time-consuming tasks, which was met with high praise. When the executive director came to meet me, he told me, “I had no idea you were a Black woman.” Shortly after that, I was told there would be no chance of me advancing beyond administrative assistant in that company — ever. It was quite a blow. I was raised believing that I could do anything, and that hard work would always be rewarded.
I had been coding in my free time, making websites for personal projects, so eventually, I left that job and decided I would use my coding skills to be an entrepreneur to support our little family. After several online ventures as a single mom, I got married to a man who also codes, and with his help, I created the SocaMom.com community.
Being a first-generation American, it was a challenge to connect to the Caribbean community. I needed that connection, and I wanted my child to have opportunities to experience Caribbean culture. I figured that if it was difficult for me, then it must be difficult for others, too; that’s why I created SocaMom.com, a community for families of the Caribbean diaspora.”
4. Justina Nixon-Saintil
Justina Nixon-Saintil (she/her) has a Mechanical Engineering degree, and her career has spanned leadership roles across marketing, program management, network engineering, and social responsibility. Currently, she focuses on creating and leading programs that address the barriers to digital inclusion.
“The most significant challenge I’ve faced was the birth of my second child at 25 weeks. Prior to his birth, I was on the leadership track and was being developed for a promotion within my company. After his birth, I spent 7 years outside of the workforce focusing on his needs, and that of his siblings.
During this time, I decided to focus on education and eventually accepted a new opportunity within the Corporate Social Responsibility organization at Verizon to create programs that provide STEM skills to underresourced students. In addition to having a positive impact on young people who look like me, I also was able to significantly increase Verizon’s investment in communities of color, and had the opportunity to work closely with the Obama administration as well.”
5. Krystal A. Maughan
Krystal A. Maughan (she/her) is currently a PhD student at the University of Vermont. Her focus is on Differential Privacy, Fairness and Machine Learning, because she believes that good tech is fair, accountable, and transparent for all people.
Krystal has done a workshop at Jet Propulsion Lab, interned at Apple, and will be interning at Autodesk Pier 9 this summer through Code2040’s Fellowship Program.
I was born in Point Fortin, but moved to Couva, Trinidad and Tobago.
“In high school, I studied Physics, Maths, and Art, but I didn’t see Engineering as creative, because if you understand the postcolonial history of colonized countries, you understand that a lot of the infrastructure set up by our colonizers was set up to be maintained, and not to spawn new ideas or put decisions in the hands of the colonized (for example, deferring legal matters to the Privy council in the UK). They did not set up our infrastructure to assist in investing in our research and development locally, or with any longevity.
So as a teenager, I saw film as being the perfect blend of technical and creative, particularly the technical side of film. I fell in love with technologies like the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) in Beauty and the Beast, and the behind-the-scenes of other Disney VHS movies growing up.
I went on to work as a technician for an incredibly niche film and lighting technology for several years, high speed film and lighting — until I realized one day at work that I would never be taught welding and soldering professionally, nor Computer-Aided Detection (CAD), as I’d been promised.
I decided to take matters into my own hands: I took night classes. I started learning CAD (Vectorworks and Rhino), then VFX software (Modo, Zbrush, Maya), welding, machining and woodworking. I finally settled (by accident) into a shop next to my woodshop that used node-based modelling for parametric modelling to control robots. They were hosting a workshop while my wooden cutting boards were drying, so I walked in and asked them what they were doing. (They were making 3-axis robots out of acrylic, controlled with 12v motors, and using node-based programming to control them.)
I found it all fascinating. I kept taking classes there until I was told that since I seemed to like robots so much, I should go to night school. So I took my first robotics night class, and since no one wanted to program the robot, I ended up doing it. I was hooked, and I fell in love with Haskell and functional programming along the way.
My love for robotics took me to a workshop at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and my love for programming took me to an ACM Conference called Principles of Programming Languages, where the professors told me I might be a good fit for a PhD. Shortly thereafter, I applied to grad school. While waiting, I did Google Summer of Code in Haskell (for Haskell.org), Mozilla’s Rust Reach (both open source coding opportunities), then an internship at Apple and one in Haskell.
Just before I was boarding the flight for my internship at Apple, I found out that I was accepted for PhD candidacy. So, I did my internships in the Bay Area, came back to Los Angeles for a week, gave away everything I had owned in the past ten years besides two suitcases, and started grad school in Computer Science.”
6. Maureena Mark
Maureena Mark (she/her) is an experienced Policy Analyst, Program Evaluator, Data Specialist, Technologist, and Assistant Principal with a demonstrated history of working in Policy and Education Management for 20+ years. She is the District Instructional Lead at New York City Department of Education and New Leaders APP Cohort ’15, ENSM ‘19.
San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago.
“I’m the curator of a very large library of digital tools and non-digital resources. My expertise lies in adding value to my collection and my lessons by choosing the right blend of resources. Effective Teaching and Learning needs a drizzle of this and a dash of that before we serve it to our youngsters.
My greatest challenge for 29 years has been persuading every parent, teacher, and administrator to embrace my core belief that the integration of technology in education is important. Technology is the language of kids, and if you’re not using it, you could be screaming at the top of your voice and kids will not hear you — and as a result, not learn.
I’ve overcome this challenge by leading by example. I’ve engaged the students, created prototype lessons, and partnered with entities that supported my own development. I let the changed mindsets and academic results of students persuade others.”
7. Michele Marius
An experienced Consultant, Manager, Regulator, and Engineer, Michele Marius (she/her) has 20 years’ experience in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and telecommunications, in areas such as policy and regulation, regulatory administration, technology, and governance.
Currently, Michele is the Director of ICT Pulse Consulting Limited, a research and advisory firm that specializes in a broad range of ICT and telecommunications issues, and is based in Jamaica. She also serves as the Publisher, Editor, and Primary Contributor of ICT Pulse, a well-respected online publication that discusses topical telecommunications and ICT issues from a Caribbean perspective, which has wide readership across the region and internationally. Michele hosts and produces the ICT Pulse Podcast, through which she deep dives into important ICT issues occurring in the Caribbean.
Lastly, Michele is the Founder of Project Calls, an online platform that collates Caribbean tender opportunities. Michele has an LLB from the University of London, an MSc in Communications, Controls, and Digital Signal Processing from the University of Strathclyde, and a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of the West Indies.
“I am really proud of launching ICT Pulse, which I think has changed the trajectory of my professional life and my perspective about telecommunications and ICT in the Caribbean region. Through ICT Pulse, I, the shy introvert, have become an advocate for the region: to become more knowledgeable about telecommunications and ICT generally and what is happening in our backyard; to use our voices on the issues that affect us — be it locally, regionally or internationally; and to move past anecdotal observations when we need to make informed decisions.”
8. Narda Chisholm-Greene
Narda Chisholm-Greene (she/her) is a proud Jamaican-born, naturalized citizen of the United States. She is a resident of South Orange, New Jersey, and holds a Master Degree of Science from Stevens Institute of Technology.
Narda is a Senior Manager at Verizon who manages an automation and integration team. She finds so much joy in her role, knowing that she is creating something special that will help her company grow. Her team implements automation use cases that provide efficiency and save costs for her organization.
“After migrating to the United States, I found that science was always my strong suit. Both my parents were in the health field in Jamaica, and my father loved science and encouraged me to imagine the impossible. The plan was to become a pharmacist; however, over 19 years ago, I started working for one of the largest wireless technology companies, and it afforded me the opportunity to get involved with STEM. Today, I am proud that my team has grown into developers who use code to address over 30K transactions, which normally would require human interaction. It’s a huge gain in efficiency for the organization.”
9. Dr. Renee Matthews
A healthcare industry leader, Dr. Renee Matthews (she/her) spent the early part of her career as a medical educator and satellite radio show host. A number of media outlets and talk shows currently work with Dr. Renee, who is a long time asthmatic and a passionate, award-winning advocate for asthma education. She has worked with the American Lung Association and was awarded the 2013 Friend of Mobile C.A.R.E. Award for her commitment to raising awareness of asthma in Chicago.
Dr. Renee has been featured in Ebony and Essence magazines, was a contributing writer for Good Enough Mother, Essence, MadameNoire, and Black and Married With Kids, and is currently an on-camera contributor for BlackDoctor.org, where she reports on healthcare news via live-streaming Facebook Live.
When Dr. Renee is not speaking for organizations and at schools, she hosts the Ask Dr. Renee show, where she interviews entrepreneurs, celebrities, and pop culture icons such as Lisa Nichols, Sally Lou Oaks, Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny’s Child, Bobby Brown, and quarantine musical pioneer, D-Nice. She is also the host of Out of Office with Dr. Renee, which is seen in 45,0000+ doctors’ office waiting rooms and exam rooms across the United States.
“My parents taught me at a young age I had to be better than the best. I had to fight at every turn to be able to take the classes I knew I was capable of taking. I had tons of people tell me I was not smart enough for medical school. I had a few people tell me I was not “college material.” My parents taught me to not worry about the naysayers, work hard, and pray. I give God the Glory for all the blessings.”
10. Renee J. Robley
Renee J. Robley (she/her) is an Activations Technician at Ultimate Software in South Florida, and boy-mom of one. She is also head cook, bottle washer, and IT guy for her food blog, HomeMadeZagat, highlighting the multicultural influences of Caribbean foods and encouraging home cooks to feel more comfortable creating these dishes.
Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago.
“For my Master’s, I was the only woman in my program. The majority of the class was made up of military men. Trying to get my voice heard during that program was tough. In a few classes, I decided to just sit back and not try to say much. But I had a teacher from my previous school who kept checking up on me and reminding me that I was in MY field and not to be deterred.
So I started making sure I was heard more in my classes. At the end of my final presentation, my professor (a former NSA/FBI agent) messaged me that he was so proud I pushed past the noise and didn’t crumble. I graduated top of that class as the only woman.”
11. Rissy La Touche
Rissy La Touche (she/her) is a storyteller focused on brand and marketing strategy, and she is currently on sabbatical as she seeks opportunities to move her career to Amsterdam. For fun, you can usually find Rissy cycling around Brooklyn, doing tricks in an aerial hoop, or curled up with a book.
I am a Black woman of Jamaican and Grenadian descent, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.
“My road to STEM was a bumpy one. As a junior high student, I tested into one of the top high schools in New York City, Brooklyn Technical High School. As a child I’d always wanted to be an astronaut, and with the privilege of attending a well-funded public school with majors, I chose to study Mechanical-Electrical Engineering.
I was later accepted to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as an Industrial Engineering major, and was one of two Black women in my entire program. When I failed out two years in, I believed it was because I didn’t belong.
Not only was there was no one else who looked like me at that point, but I always came back to one instance in which I mustered up the courage to ask a clarifying question in Physics, and the teacher responded in front of the entire class: “I don’t understand why you don’t understand this.” In short, I thought I was stupid.
Later, I found out that failing out of RIT was par for the course. Fast forward a bit, I was re-admitted to RIT and chose to study Advertising and Public Relations instead. I took my first job at an advertising agency, working as a strategy analyst on the launch of Motorola’s first smartphone under the ownership of Google. After six months in that role, I jumped ship to my first tech company.
Six years in, I’ve worked in tech my whole career, touching the payments, consumer tech, food delivery, film, and gaming industries, and have picked up skills across analytics, performance marketing, content production, and brand. I’m a jill-of-all-trades, and a master of many.”
12. Ruth-Ann Hazel Armstrong
Ruth-Ann Hazel Armstrong (she/her) is a junior at Stanford University from Spanish Town, Jamaica, majoring in Computer Science and minoring in Economics. Outside of classes, she is involved in the Stanford Black Society of Engineers, The Stanford Daily, the Caribbean Students Association, and Stanford Women in Engineering. She enjoys writing poetry, journalism, and watching Jubilee videos on Youtube.
Spanish Town, Jamaica.
“When I had just arrived at Stanford, I would often avoid speaking up in my classrooms and contributing to discussions, even when I had something to say. In addition to having an accent, I was often one of few Black women in the classroom, so I felt very insecure about speaking up. I was afraid that I would say something silly, that people wouldn’t be able to understand me, or that I didn’t have anything of value to add to the discussion because everyone else seemed so ridiculously smart.
Eventually, I realized that my position as a Black Jamaican woman in a classroom at Stanford was a HUGE reason for me to speak up because the perspective I was able to bring to discussions was one that the people around me would probably otherwise never be exposed to. By speaking up, I could voice the needs and perspectives of people who had identities similar to mine, and advocate for others who are often overlooked in tech spaces.
I also realized that I was under no obligation to be perfectly right if I wanted to contribute something; I was in these classrooms because I wanted to learn. One of the best ways to learn is to try, then make mistakes and learn from them. I realized the more I spoke, the more others would get used to hearing accents like mine, and the less other Caribbean people would have to worry about not being understood.
Although it was a difficult process, I slowly pushed myself to speak up in my classes and contribute whenever I could. I’m a junior now, and I rarely (if ever) hesitate to raise my hand — or now, unmute my mic on Zoom — when I feel like speaking up.”
13. Shelley V. Worrell
Shelley V. Worrell (she/her) is the Head of Caribbean Partnerships at the US Census and the Founder of Caribbeing / Little Caribbean NYC, an organization at the intersection of culture, community, and commerce.
Brooklyn, New York.
“My biggest challenge was taking time off from my career to look after my father whose health was rapidly declining. He went from walking, to walker, to wheelchair in less than six months. A few months later, he suffered a massive stroke and spent his last years in a nursing home.
Putting my career on hold was extremely challenging; however, I immersed myself in my culture, my heritage, and my community, which all led me to develop a number of opportunities and awards I may not have otherwise experienced. For a long time, I struggled to explain why I put my career on hold, but in the end, everything worked itself out. And today, I’m working at the intersection of a few of my passions, which include the Caribbean, partnerships, community, and data.”
14. Sheryl Duffus Williams
Sheryl Duffus Williams (she/her) is a Network Engineer in Verizon Communication, New York, on the Voice & Video Engineering Core Network Engineering team. She obtained an MBA from Long Island University and Master’s of Science in Information Systems from Stevens Institute of Technology.
“A personal challenge I’ve faced is overcoming the feeling of not being good enough. Emigrating from Jamaica as a teenager, I have always felt the pressure to assimilate. I overcame it by immersing myself in my educational pursuits, and in doing so, built up the self-esteem to know I could achieve anything I wanted to, no matter where I was living. In May of 2018, I graduated with a 3.973 GPA from Stevens Institute of Technology, a great personal achievement considering where I started from!”
15. Tennessee Watt
Tennessee Watt (she/her) is a digital corporate communications consultant who creates reputation-building digital content for FTSE100 companies. She grew up in London, England, where she graduated from a Masters in Management and Digital Innovation from Imperial College London.
London, United Kingdom.
“I studied business at university (twice!), specializing in digital platforms. I’d always loved the marketing side of business as it seemed more creative. I knew when I graduated that I wanted to work in a tech-focused corporate role without having to code.
I did a few internships in digital marketing and really liked it. It catered to the left side of my brain that loves data and rational thinking, and the right-side that liked out-of-the-box, emotionally-driven thinking.
After graduating, I tried a few full-time roles in marketing and media, but the culture was very hierarchical; those in junior positions received only basic tasks. I’d spend day after day doing simple data entry, literally copying and pasting cells in Excel. There was no analysis involved. I felt like I wasn’t really using my degrees or being challenged.
The only remotely challenging task I was given was to research consumer behavior using a tool called TouchPoints. This company had basically surveyed a sample of the UK on what they were doing at different times of the day, using a phone app to let them input their activity at different moments. It meant that media planners could learn what most 18–34 year olds were doing at lunchtime. Which technologies were they using? Which modes of transport? We’d then use this data as as rationale to build media plans for clients.
I was fascinated with the insights, and I worked hard to master the tool. I asked my manager when I was going to be able to put the media plan narratives together, only to be told, “It will take about a year or two.” I remember thinking, Why can’t I do it now? And how am I ever going to learn anything valuable over the next two years if all you trust me with is admin? It didn’t make any sense to me that someone more senior than me would write up a summary of analysis that I had performed.
After that role, I got into corporate communications, and it was almost by accident. I applied for a digital executive role not knowing much at all about corporate communications, except for that it typically meant businesses trying to save their reputations. When I started, I was finally given the level of responsibility I craved. Not only was I able to run digital campaigns, but also come up with ideas for building audiences and analyzing their conversations.
I was able to build on the consumer audience research skills I’d gained using TouchPoints and TGI and apply them to different stakeholder groups like investors and journalists. I was also exposed to micro-targeting, that is targeting people on an individual level with content. It made me think about the responsibilities that come with using data and technology.”
16. Yaneke Henry
Yaneke Henry (she/her) is a Senior Manager of System Performance at Verizon from San Antonio, Texas.
Bois Content, St. Catherine, Jamaica.
“I have faced numerous challenges throughout my life. However, one challenge that I constantly struggle with is being confident in my own abilities.
While I’ve made great strides over the years in that regard, I continuously have to work on being confident and try to surround myself with other successful women who exude confidence. Since becoming a leader, I’ve used bad experiences as opportunities to channel my fears and practice being brave and confident; I use it as motivation to show up more confident for the next opportunity.
The mirror has become my best friend. Whenever I talk to the person looking back at me, I am reminded that I am still that little girl from rural Jamaica who defied all the odds of being successful past high school. I am reminded that my humble beginnings were opportunities; working in the mountains with my grandmother in the blazing hot sun picking the coffee beans, coco, mangoes, and whatever else we could sell to make a profit were experiences that created the resilience I needed to overcome the challenges I face today.
Today, I can confidently say that I belong! I am a work in progress, and I take solace in the fact that Rome wasn’t built in a day. When I wake up, I am reminded that God’s mercy is new every morning.”