Girls In STEM

Chemist Kristen Wells-Lewis Is Paving the Way for Black Girls in STEM

Wells-Lewis shares the importance of making space in the male-dominated industry.

By Danielle Wright

Kristen Wells-Lewis is a chemist and the founder of a STEM kit for Black girls.

Kristen Wells-Lewis is dedicated to providing a space for Black girls who want to make it in the science and engineering fields, especially when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling in the cosmetics industry.

The Beaumont native founded Black to the Lab, an educational kit she created to teach young Black girls about STEM’s impact in the cosmetics industry. The need to increase the numbers of Black women and other women of color in STEM careers bears out in other industries as well, even those based in Space City.

According to the National Science Board, women make up 28% of the current science and engineering workspace; of this percentage, women of color comprise about 5%. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), one of Houston’s renowned industries of science and engineering, currently has just 12% of African Americans in its STEM workforce.

For Wells-Lewis, science and technology have been important to her since childhood. As a college student, she initially wanted to work in the medical field. She studied for a career in pharmaceuticals at Prairie View A&M University, but she pivoted to chemistry after a professor opened her eyes to another pathway in STEM careers. It led her to her ultimate passion: makeup and skincare. 

When she found her calling, Wells-Lewis underwent extensive research into product ingredients, learning as much as she could about the chemical properties of makeup. But she felt like she was a late bloomer when it came to finding her passion, and she wanted to help inspire Black girls like herself to learn more about the science behind cosmetics. 

“Having a science background, it was so interesting and cool learning about [cosmetics], so I started to dabble and formulate my skincare and body care products,” Wells-Lewis tells Houstonia. “Therefore, I wanted to share this experience, that I feel like I got a little too late.”

The lack of representation for Black women in beauty was held under the spotlight in the summer of 2020. Sharon Chuter, the founder of Uoma Beauty, created the #PullUpOrShutUp challenge for cosmetic brands to reveal workforce statistics. Major names like Kylie Cosmetics, Tarte, Morphe and Glossier posted their numbers on Instagram, with Black employees making up 3% to 13% of their workforce.

“There are not a lot of Black women who are on that side of the industry, especially as it relates to the formulation [of makeup]. We see a lot of our white and Asian counterparts, but not a lot of us,” says Wells-Lewis. 

A Cosmetic Vocabulary card deck by Black to the Lab.

 

To increase representation, Wells-Lewis founded Black to the Lab. The brand, which is still in its planning stages, offers introductory science-level experiments called cosmetic activity boxes. Some of those activities are hands-on training in the art of creating products like lip gloss and body scrubs. Each kit contains supplies that mimic professional lab equipment, including lab badges, safety goggles, beakers and syringes. There’s also a manual that features step-by-step instructions and introduces participants to cosmetic-chemistry-related vocabulary. 

Wells-Lewis explains that the main goal of her product is to open up young girls’ minds to STEM-related career paths. 

In continuing to build Black to the Lab, Wells-Lewis recently won a $25,000 grant from her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, for the Delta Red Tank competition. The win will allow her to improve how she manufactures the kit so that it’s available to be sold through her website and offer cognitive chemistry learning to an underrepresented audience. 

Wells-Lewis says that while her STEM kit is aimed at Black girls, she hopes anyone interested in a career in the cosmetics industry checks it out.

“Use it as an opportunity to celebrate your teammates, so when you go into this industry and there’s a Black girl on your team, you’re reminded of this experience and make sure their voice is heard and they’re credited for their work,” she says.

Still, Wells-Lewis maintains that the kit is a labor of love and something she wished she had when she first dreamed of a STEM career. She says, “We want young Black girls to be able to go in the store and see themselves represented in this product. My mission will always be to help open and expand their mind to all of the things that they can create moving forward.”


For more information about Black to the Lab, visit online.

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