By Xavier University,
Ebony Magazine’s longest-running editorial franchise, the HBCU campus queens competition, commemorates Black collegiate women around the world poised to make positive changes in the African American community. The competition highlights brilliant students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs in collaboration with cosmetics company Olay. Xavierite Kirsten McGowan was selected as a Top 10 2021 Olay x Ebony HBCU STEM Queen.
One thousand miles away from her native home of Chicago, Illinois, McGowan chose Xavier because she felt the university’s environment, faculty, and students would provide her with a supportive foundation, similar to her family back home. She also valued that Xavier is rooted in faith and known nationwide for producing the most Black doctors in the country. As a first-year pharmacy student, McGowan found great comfort in the Xavier community as she transitioned into pharmacy school.
“I switched from Pre-med to Pharmacy, a change that should have delayed me 1-2 years. Xavier’s support allowed me to successfully pivot and that is how I knew God etched Xavier into my path,” said McGowan. “After seeing the products of Xavier, it was never a question in my eyes that Xavier would blossom me into the young woman that God destined for me to be.”
Attending Xavier allowed McGowan to pursue her STEM passion, which she discovered at a young age. Growing up, she was obsessed with a stethoscope she had for her doll and knew one day she was going to be a doctor. For McGowan, it has been a meaningful experience to be an HBCU STEM Queen not only because of her love for STEM but because her mother grew up seeing Ebony’s annual spread of HBCU queens. “My family, friends, and everyone who voted for me were so supportive. My little cousins called me saying, ‘Kirsten’s a queen’ and ‘I want to be like you when I grow up,’ so to be an HBCU STEM Queen is so empowering,” said McGowan.
HBCU STEM Queen is one of two titles that have been bestowed upon McGowan, who is also the 86th Miss Xavier. McGowan’s mother emphasized how inspirational and impactful the HBCU queen title is. This helped McGowan to understand how her roles serve as an inspiration for others.
“Being able to attend events as Miss Xavier where I’m wearing my crown shows a solid, strong representation of what a Black woman can look like. I realized my titles are so much more than just titles. Being able to showcase strength for young, little girls to see is everything to me,” said McGowan.
Representation is important and significant for McGowan, who is also an alumna of Xavier’s Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity initiative (XULA BUILD), Project Pathways. Project Pathways aims to strengthen the growth of students of color in STEM through exposure to research opportunities, mentorships, and graduate programs. Project Pathways ingrained vital principles into McGowan’s life that she utilizes daily, such as the power of confidence.
“XULA BUILD helped put me in a mindset of knowing how to present myself confidently and knowledgeably, which I don’t think I would have without BUILD,” said McGowan. “When you’re able to apply a knowledgeable, confident mindset to your life and career, the opportunities to grow and succeed are amplified tremendously, especially in the STEM world.”
McGowan found Project Pathways and the BUILD program to be an eye-opening experience as she was granted exposure to new and different opportunities she hadn’t accessed before, such as industries, labs, and hospital settings. McGowan’s XULA BUILD mentor, Dr. Anu Kundu, helped play a role in making her HBCU STEM Queen through his methodology of pushing her to think ahead.
“When I had the opportunity to have Dr. Kundu as a BUILD mentor, I knew it would be great. He makes you question how you build upon what you’ve already done and how to make things greater. That’s a perspective I’ve taken from the lab and have applied to my life,” said McGowan.
In full pursuit of STEM and pharmacy school, McGowan has taken her experiences as stepping stones, continuing to push her to greater heights. McGowan exemplifies that faith, confidence, hard work, and determination goes a long way. McGowan says she is constantly looking forward to what’s next, assured that STEM will always be part of her journey.
“When I first got into school, I didn’t feel as though I was the best at science, but it intrigued me most because it brought out my creative side. I knew I wanted to be in the STEM field, and I’ve always felt STEM has been my purpose,” said McGowan. “No matter how hard or challenging things are, I still find myself dedicated. When you’repassionate about something, and nothing can dilute your passion, that’s when you know you’ve found your calling.”