January 30, 2018

Purdue Profiles: Zenephia Evans

Zenephia Evans portrait Zenephia Evans, director of the Science Diversity Office at the Purdue College of Science. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca Wilcox) Download image

Zenephia Evans has always been fascinated with cell and developmental biology. Even as a little girl, she remembers, she was amazed by the idea of blood vessels bringing blood and oxygen to her fingertips and back again.

It was never a question that she wanted to study biology. However, as an undergraduate student at Talladega College and later as a graduate student and educator at Purdue, Evans noticed a lack of diversity in the sciences in general. Passionate about fostering diversity in the STEM arena and mentoring underrepresented students, Evans became the director of multicultural science programs at Purdue in 2004. Now, she’s the director of the Science Diversity Office at the Purdue College of Science. An avid community volunteer at Purdue and in Greater Lafayette, Evans is a recent recipient of the Special Boilermaker Award and the Frederick L. Hovde Outstanding Faculty Fellow Award. 

How did you become involved in leading diversity initiatives?

When I started out in biology, I was the only African-American student in my graduate course, and not only that, I was a woman in a male-dominated STEM arena. I had the opportunity to serve as guest lecturer in Science 100 and that is when I started working with my predecessor in this arena, Regina Todd Hicks. She was wonderful in leading these efforts, and when she stepped aside, I thought the position would allow me to remain in the scientific arena, while looking at a different problem. As any scientist would, I looked at this using the scientific method and knew that we needed to formulate a hypothesis, look at the possible solutions, and draw some conclusions based on what we learn.

How do your diversity efforts expand to campus beyond just the College of Science?

We work collaboratively with Jay Akridge, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity, putting our heads together with colleagues across campus to come up with solutions and best practices that ensure we all improve. Together, we can make a collective push for the good of the students.

How do you hope that your involvement in the Women in Science Program will assist women heading into STEM careers?

Because of my intersecting identities as an African-American and a woman, I understand the frustrations of many women and underrepresented students that pursue STEM studies. The great team in the Science Diversity Office wants to assist in removing hurdles that impede progress.

You also cook and serve at Lafayette Urban Ministry’s soup kitchen. What made you want to be so involved in giving back to the community?

Volunteering is something that is essential to who I am. I think it’s important to look around and address the needs of our community. Knowing that I can cook and seeing the food insecurity of local residents, I wanted to help. I love to cook and to be able to cook for a group of people who can’t give me anything in return but a smile or a thank you does something good to my heart. I’ve been serving at the Lafayette Urban Ministry for about 20 years. When you get to know the individuals that are in these situations, you realize that this can happen to anyone. Many of us are only one step away from needing the help of others. 

What’s your favorite part about what you do?

Graduation weekend is my favorite time of the year because the students I have met or mentored fulfilled their dream of earning a Purdue degree. During their tenure at Purdue, I have watched these students learn, grow and build a solid foundation that will take them to the next step of their journey. I am ever grateful when alumni give back to ensure that the current students can have more opportunities. 

Writer: Kelsey Schnieders Lefever, kschnied@purdue.edu

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