UAB neuroscientist is the subject of a children’s book about STEM leaders from underrepresented groups

UAB scientist aims to inspire children from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue a career in science and help them understand that achieving their passions is possible.

Gray InsideUAB scientist aims to inspire children from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue a career in science and help them understand that achieving their passions is possible. Michelle Gray, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and Jarman F. Lowder Endowed Professor in neuroscience at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, is the subject of a children’s book in a series that highlights accomplished scientists from underrepresented groups with ties to Alabama. 

Montgomery high school students were given the summer project to write and illustrate children’s books using the life stories of STEM professionals from underrepresented groups. Each book in the series focused on a STEM professional who is a member of an underrepresented group. Gray was identified as someone who was a perfect fit for the “That Could Be ME!” book project. Working as either authors or illustrators, the students crafted biographies with each other developing the narrative arc in word and image, from start to finish. 

Gray is an Alabama native from a rural town in Hale County who did not see scientist role models around her as she was growing up. However, she was driven by her innate curiosity and a career-oriented mindset. Gray hopes this book resonates with children who have backgrounds similar to hers so it can help them know that becoming a research scientist is possible if they are passionate about it.

Michelle Gray StreamMichelle Gray, Ph.D.“I am hoping the authors and illustrators know they are capable of making a huge impact in someone’s life by activities such as these,” Gray said. “Also, I hope the young readers of this work will see themselves in me, as the title of the series suggests: They could be me.”

Gray believes it is oftentimes difficult to follow a path or a dream when no one you know from similar backgrounds or with similar lived experiences has attained those goals. “It is hard to be what you do not see,” she said.  

Therefore, Gray took this opportunity to inspire others and has enjoyed the experience working with the students, Sumin Park and Anterricka Piner. She had a few interviews and follow-up questions to aid them in understanding her story. The students creatively worked on capturing her experiences and writing a story easily approachable by children. The book, titled “Be Fearless: The Story of Dr. Michelle Gray,” is now available for purchase. 

“I have been humbled by this whole experience,” Gray said. “I truly became a scientist for selfish reasons. I was passionate about my career because I believed, by doing so, I would always find joy. However, as I grew older, I realized that my story could inspire young people who were like me and who lacked easily accessible role models doing scientific research.”

At UAB, Gray’s research focuses on Huntington’s disease, a disease with no known cure, and says that she finds both joy and meaning in doing so. 

“My work in the Huntington’s disease community is really guided by the knowledge that I am not merely doing science for science’s sake or because I am extremely curious by nature, but because I hope what we do in the laboratory can add some pieces of the puzzle needed in identifying treatments for this disease,” she said.

The effort was organized by the Foundation for the Art and Science of Learning in collaboration with Montgomery Public Schools and Montgomery City-County Public Library.