By Mayshad Mag
Mayshad Magazine is an advocacy platform for empowerment which mainly focuses on empowering women, raising awareness and exploring a contemporary lifestyle.
- Can you please share with the Mayshad audience who is Dr. Wanida Lewis?
I am a Foreign Affairs Officer working on agricultural policy for the U.S. Department of State. I have a background in food science and chemistry. Before coming to the State Department, I worked as a product development scientist at General Mills, a major international food manufacturer based in the United States. During my tenure there, I developed food products that helped to feed millions of people in various countries. Although the opportunity to see a product that you helped bring to the market is rewarding, I realized there is a major disconnect between the role of the scientist and the communities they serve. More could be done to build a sustainable agriculture system, especially through policy. From that moment on, I wanted to spend my career applying my scientific knowledge to global outreach and agricultural policy to create effective policy. In order to do so, I looked for opportunities to interact with and educate the communities impacted by global food and agriculture policies. One of the biggest red flags I see in creating a just and sustainable food system is not addressing inequality. Inequality determines who eats first and who eats worst. If we fail to address inequality, which is one of the root causes of food crises, social unrest will continue to occur. We must ensure everyone has a seat at the table when policies and budgets are decided. The policies we develop together will have widespread ramifications on increasing participation in the workforce and on food productivity throughout the world. In turn, the policies created will contribute to a more sustainable agriculture system that benefits everyone.
- What does success mean to you?
Success to me means living your “best life,” that is living your life as an adventure. As long as you choose to learn and gain wisdom from these adventures, you will always have success.
- Tell us about a project or an accomplishment that you consider to be the most empowering.
The most empowering project that I have accomplished to date is developing and implementing the U.S. Department of State’s Economic and Business Affairs Bureau “Women in Ag Biotech” outreach strategy. This strategy advances opportunities for women in the agriculture sector worldwide; serving the U.S. government’s overall mission of promoting national security, stability, and prosperity. At the heart of the strategy is a series of one-day forums with the support of the U.S. Embassies Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Accra, Ghana, USAID and private sector partners The objective of the forums is to bring together African women involved in the agribusiness sector, ranging from research to policy making, to help promote the use of biotech crops in food insecure countries. Agricultural biotechnology can provide enhanced benefits to women working in the sector, such as higher yield, lower water needs, and greater profitability. Crops that are less threatened by weeds or require fewer pesticide sprayings free women from time-consuming manual labor. Women are innovators — they expand new and innovative opportunities to improve agribusiness. By bringing women together, they make the best choices for themselves and their families and communities. These women in turn can talk about their experiences and express their support for farmer choice to their policy and decision makers in government.
- Do you have a message for students of color who are interested in pursuing a similar career to yours?
“Be open to everything and attached to nothing”, a quote by Kathy Cramer, Ph.D. comes to mind. Always be open and trust the process, you will never know where you will end up. When I started college, I knew (or so I thought), I wanted to be a neurosurgeon working in pediatrics. However, by the time I finished my first full year as a freshman in college, I realized that career path was not for me. I took an opportunity to pursue a summer internship in food science, and the rest was history. If I had not been open to the idea, and worked very hard, I would not be where I am today. Despite all my hard work, though, during my journey, I have heard several times “I am lucky to be where am I” or “there must be a quota for females and people of color”. The misogyny and racism that others and I have experienced from professionals in the field even led some of my colleagues to switch departments or leave Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) altogether. I would encourage any of your readers who run into this kind of ignorance to hold onto your dream – don’t let them stop you. These experiences have helped shaped my career and reinforced my passion to help others by mentoring women and underrepresented groups who wish to pursue careers in STEM. Even while I was still just a doctoral candidate, I would host social nights at the library as a way to support each other and share the nuisances that everyone felt during their journey. That support helped my colleagues and I obtain our doctoral degrees. My personal motto is “pay it forward.” Since then, I have been fortunate to be able to share my journey with many aspiring scientists, undergraduates, graduate students and non-science professionals. Although I have completed my doctorate over five years ago, the same mean-spirited questions of how I got to where I am still get asked. However, my experiences have taught me that I am not the problem; the people with that mentality are the problem. Therefore, my goal is to continue to mentor underrepresented people and encourage them that although the road may be rough, you have to continue your efforts, and then reach back to help others.
- To Be a Mayshad Woman is a choice a woman makes to live a stimulated life with a positive philosophy based on gratitude, acceptance and accomplishment, in order to “Be Who She Wants to Be”. She handles different aspects of her Life with confidence, and makes sure to always remain herself, guarding her own values. She is a free spirit, who designs her own life while inspiring others to do the same. Based on this description, how do you relate to the Mayshad Woman Philosophy?
I relate to the Mayshad Woman Philosophy as a woman who lives with intention and follows her rules. I have always walked a different path from others and frankly, I am proud of that. In order to be who you want to be, you have to love who you are and what you plan on becoming. It has taken me some time to get the “love yourself” aspect of life to 100% but I have come to accepting where I am.