The Annual Campus and Community MLK Commemoration hosts motivational speaker and education leader Dr. Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd

Education leader Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd gives a speech during the MU Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event Thursday at the Missouri Theatre. The theme of the commemoration was STEAM at Midnight: King’s Vision for Science in the Social Order. Boyd’s speech focused on the relevance and critical need for increased representation of women and people of color in STEM fields.

When Gwendolyn Elizabeth Boyd arrived at Yale University in the early 1970s, she said that from the moment she met with her advisor, it was apparent that being a black woman pursuing a master’s degree in engineering would not come without obstacles.

“He said to me, to my face, ‘I don’t know why you’re here, you don’t belong and you will wash out in six months,’” Boyd said.

She recounted this experience at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at Missouri Theatre. The theme for Thursday evening’s event, which was hosted by MU, focused on increasing the representation of African American people in the fields of science, technology, electronics, arts and mathematics, or STEAM.

Boyd graduated from Alabama State University and went on to be the first African American woman to graduate from Yale University, with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Boyd later served as the first female president at Alabama State University before being nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as a trustee to the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence Foundation. In 2014, she served on the President’s Advisory Commission on Education Excellence for African Americans.

Ashley Woodson, organizer for the event and MU College of Education faculty member, explained why Boyd was asked to be the evening’s keynote speaker.

“We tend to think about folks who do work in the social sciences and humanities. This is a way to broaden the conversation and to be innovative.” Woodson said. “We thought that Dr. Boyd as a biophysicist — but also as an activist and theologian — would be a really great choice to facilitate the beginning of this conversation.”

Over a hundred people turned out for the nearly two hour event.

Reflecting on the experience with her advisor at Yale, Boyd stressed that discrimination remains present in the educational system.

“That was many years ago, but the attitude is still pervasive,” Boyd said.

Supervising editor is Molly Hart.

  • Education reporter, spring 2020. Studying photojournalism. Reach me at or in the newsroom at (573) 882-5720.

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