Ashley Lindalía Walker’s academic interests started close to home and have traveled millions of kilometers. “I’m a nontraditional student,” said the Chicago native. “I started off in community college” in 2015, she said, studying forensic chemistry. “I really wanted to help understand what was happening and solve some of Chicago’s crime and things of that nature. But [then] I received a scholarship at my now alma mater, Chicago State University (CSU), the only Black 4-year college in Illinois.”
Once at CSU, Walker took an opportunity to participate in an astronomy research project, which quickly became her primary research focus. While still studying forensic chemistry, she interned at Harvard University researching planet-forming disks and at Johns Hopkins University studying aerosol hazes in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan.
Many community college students earn their associate’s degree within 2 years and then complete their bachelor’s degree in another 2 years, she explained. “However, it took me a little bit longer.” After graduating from CSU in 2020 as the first astrochemist in the university’s history, she became a postbaccalaureate researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center investigating Titan’s atmospheric chemistry.
For the past few years, Walker has also focused on science communication, especially highlighting the experiences and amplifying the voices of Black scientists. As calls for racial justice increased during 2020, Walker founded and organized the first Black In Astro week on social media and co-organized Black in X events in other disciplines.
“I wanted to show some of the issues that we face as Black astronomers, aerospace engineers, space policy people, and so on,” Walker said. “I really wanted to show last year: This is what’s happened to us. There’s not many of us in the field or within these spaces. How can you all make us feel better? How can you all make us feel comfortable? This is what we see through our eyes and through our lens. This year we’re focusing on a celebration versus trauma. Now that we told our story and people know our story, we want to focus on celebrating us and how can we retain us and continuously recruit more of us.”
She plans to continue her work as a science communicator as she pursues a doctoral degree in atmospheric science at Howard University starting this fall. Walker (@That_Astro_Chic) encourages everyone to join in celebrating and amplifying Black experiences in space-related fields with Black In Astro (@BlackInAstro) during the annual #BlackInAstro events on social media and all year round.
—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer