Shonell Benjamin on Going into Research and Social Media Branding

"Then I started to realize that they saw something in me.” Shonell Benjamin an undergraduate student at Lawrence University speaks on her experience of going into research. As a star-studded basketball player, she also reveals how social media has expanded her popularity in the field and how it has enabled her to brand herself in a tech-savvy world. As an Guyanese American native of Brooklyn, New York, Benjamin shines light on the common misconception of what people in research “look like” and how she continues in her endeavors to change that. Her story line depicts how research chose her and she finally chose it to.

 What are you studying/What university do you attend?

I am currently a Biology major with a minor in both Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. 

Why did you choose research, did anything particularly motivate you?

I was selected as a Posse Scholar to attend Lawrence University which is a predominantly white institute (PWI) in a predominantly white town. I came to Lawrence originally with the intention to just fulfill all the requirements to obtain a biology degree. I never really knew what research was or had the intentions of doing it until my genetics professor asked me after my sophomore year, "what are you doing this summer?" When I responded I told her I would be working at a basketball camp. She then continued to say, "I highly suggest you try staying here a summer to do research because you're really good at it." At first, I was thinking to myself "how would she know that I'm good at research." After that day, another one of my biology professors came up to me and we were having a casual conversation. She then says to me, "a lot of the biology professors have a lot of great things to say about you." Then I started to realize that they saw something in me.

 Did anything ever hold you back from choosing research?

Shortly, I started to consider doing research. However, I was always skeptical about doing it because for the most part I was usually one of the few black women in a classroom full of white students. I constantly underestimated my abilities because I came from a place where research wasn't promoted. I thought my peers would know more than me. The moment of truth came when Professor Israel Del Toro offered me my current research job. I just thought it would be foolish if I didn't take the opportunity. I stepped out my comfort zone and took a risk. Now, this summer I had the opportunity to create 2 systems that would allow me to test the thermal tolerances of different bee species. I chose to make this my independent project because bees are important pollinators and I wanted to study what the effects of climate change would be on their physiology. Originally, I wasn't completely sure what I would research and if I would even be good at it. In the classroom, I wouldn't mind participating and I didn't have a problem with any of the material. For some reason I thought that research would be too advanced then I realized if I had the ability to be a hardworking student then I had the ability to be a researcher. I just had to find something I was interested in and stop being so fearful of failure. I've been through many obstacles and failures so I shouldn't be afraid of taking a chance.

 How do you use social media to brand yourself?

 Basketball has played a significant role in my life. After an injury I lost a little bit of my confidence and was too shy to post on social media. However, after constantly being in the gym, working hard, and staying motivated to be the best version of me that I can be, I used social media as an outlet to let people know that I'm still here. Now, I love to show everyone that I'm still doing what I love. I've noticed a lot of improvement and self-growth through basketball and want people to see that. It's good to know that I also have a great deal of people who support me.  I enjoy knowing that a post on social media is a way to inspire and motivate people to continue to do what they love. I just want people to not give up on what they love and keep pushing through adversity because pain is temporary. Social media is also a way for me to reach people who share my interests. So far, I've met a lot of other basketball players who I'm excited to ball with whenever we link up. Honestly, there is a large pool of us, and it is amazing to see people doing their thing.

 Can you describe your first encounter with your career of interest ?

My first encounter with basketball was actually in 5th grade at my after-school program. The “PYE Beacon After School program was basically my home. I attended the program since I was in kindergarten all the way up to 8th grade. I've met most of my friends and mentors there. It really kept me out of the house and off the streets.  I had a strict coach who taught me more about life than she did about basketball which I now realize has helped me a lot. My first time playing, there were about 10 of us on the team and we didn't even touch a basketball. We had to run 200 laps every practice before we could even touch a ball. Most of the time we didn't get to touch the ball because we took the whole time to run the laps. Then when we got to the games, our skills weren't great, but we sure had more stamina than the other teams. Teams beat us all the time and we knew we had a lot to work on but, we still went out there and played with heart. Eventually we got better “skill wise” and I became one of the best players on my team. I played every chance I even played on teams with the boys. I just knew basketball was something I loved and wanted to do as long as I could. It taught me about heart and hustle no matter what.

         Although basketball was and still is my life, I was always told that I had to have another profession in mind. As I went through high-school I knew whatever I grew up to be I wanted to still be connected to basketball and sports in general. Also, math and science were always my strengths and most interesting subjects. From this, I would always research what jobs would encompass both, and I learned there are plenty of jobs that do. Then I started to volunteer at my old after school program and realized I loved working with the youth.  Once I got to college, I realized that I was very interested in biology and entrepreneurship. I always had this idea that I could create my own job and be my own boss. The courses that I've taken have always intrigued me and forced me to really think about what I value. I always wanted to give back and help others. I started at basketball camps, going back to my after-school program and even interacting with the underprivileged youth in the area where I currently go to school. I constantly want to teach and learn from our youth. I noticed that when I was younger, I had people who were looking out for me and it is now my time to look out for the generations after me who are looking for guidance. Whatever I end up doing I want to be able to still fulfill my passion for basketball and give back to the youth in underprivileged communities.

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