Published May 8, 2020
To inspire and better communicate with young, underrepresented students about science, Raven Baxter turned to a childhood hobby: creating rap music.
By marrying STEM education with hip hop, Baxter, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education, has added “queen of science rap” to her many titles, which include biology professor and a devoted champion for diversity in STEM.
Better known as Raven the Science Maven, Baxter has created numerous songs and music videos ─ featuring clever science-themed wordplay and self-produced beats ─ on topics that range from serving as an empowerment anthem for women in STEM to encouraging cleanliness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baxter’s fun-filled outreach efforts have gained the attention of media nationwide, as well as the city of Buffalo, which has tapped her to host a series of social media takeovers on Mayor Byron Brown’s Instagram account – @mayorbyronbrown716 – as part of the BuffaloPAUSE program.
BuffaloPAUSE is an eight-week digital challenge to engage Buffalo teens while encouraging them to stay home and practice social distancing. Each week features challenges and Amazon gift card prizes.
Beginning on May 4 during Teacher Appreciation Week and continuing through June 8, Baxter is taking over Brown’s Instagram account each Monday, performing live science experiments using everyday household items and encouraging teens to share videos of themselves repeating and explaining her steps for potential prizes. The experiments will also be featured on Baxter’s Instagram account, @raventhesciencemaven.
“I believe that the key to closing gaps in both health disparities and STEM fields lies in culturally responsive science communication,” says Baxter, who is also director of collegiate stem initiatives at Health Sciences Charter School in Buffalo.
“As a proud Buffalo native, I am excited to partner with the city of Buffalo on BuffaloPAUSE to encourage our teens to engage in socially responsible behavior, while providing a relatable and diversified representation of science to our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and for the years to come.”
Prior to becoming a STEM educator, Baxter worked as a corporate cancer research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. But after learning that the only other African Americans working at her office were security guards and custodians, she decided to shift her career toward pushing more people of color toward STEM fields.
Baxter took a position at Erie Community College as a biology professor and immediately found the work rewarding.
“From that point on, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist in the community, communicating science and amplifying underrepresented voices in STEM,” says Baxter, who now teaches biology at Buffalo State College. “Research shows that learning outcomes are better when the student can relate to the teacher. I can help close the gaps by providing more representation to newer generations who want to pursue STEM.”
Baxter created that connection with the community through music. At UB, she’s studying its effectiveness.
A 2019-20 Arthur A. Schomburg Fellow in the Graduate School of Education, Baxter is researching culturally responsive teaching strategies in STEM education, particularly through hip hop music. Her dissertation focuses on the effects of media representation on black women in science.
According to her research, 98% of black women ─ both in and outside STEM fields ─ don’t identify with the common portrayal of a scientist as a geeky white male. She’s also examining how her music affects the way these women identify with science.
Baxter will soon have more material to test her theories. She will release a new album, “The Protocol,” on May 30. The album blends rap, tropical and house music with a lyrical narrative of how she found her identity in STEM.
“The album will improve science culture by empowering people to be their unapologetic selves,” says Baxter. “A lot about science culture needs to change. There is a feeling that minorities can’t be their authentic selves and have to conform to science culture, which is the dominant culture because STEM fields aren’t diverse.”
The album, says Baxter, will be available on all major music-streaming platforms. She has already received hundreds of pre-orders.
For more information about Baxter, her music or her work as the founder of STEMbassy, a science advocacy organization focused on STEM in the context of politics, culture and social issues, visit her website, scimaven.com.