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Aliyah Griffith Makes History As First Black UNC Student To Get Graduate Degree In Marine Sciences

Aliyah Griffith Makes History As First Black UNC Student To Get Graduate Degree In Marine Sciences

She’s living out her dreams!

Aliyah Griffith recently made history as the first Black University of North Carolina (UNC) student to obtain a graduate degree in marine sciences, The Daily Tar Heel reports. 

Griffith first became interested in marine sciences when she was just 5 years old during a trip to SeaWorld with her family. By the age of 7, she had approached a dolphin trainer at the Baltimore Aquarium to figure out exactly what their job title was. That was the day she decided her career path. 

“By age seven or eight, I was running around like, ‘I’m going to be a marine biologist. And people were like, ‘why do you know what that is?’,” Griffith recalled. 

Growing up, she never lost sight of that dream, heading to undergrad at Hampton University where she majored in marine sciences. Upon graduation, she pursued a graduate degree in marine sciences at UNC. During her time there, Griffith has worked in the Castillo Lab, focusing on the impact of global change on the ocean’s coral reefs. She has also become a staunch advocate for diversity in marine sciences, working to create opportunities for other students of color. 

Griffith founded Mahogany Mermaids in 2016, an organization focused on empowering children of color in the aquatic sciences. For the last few years, Mahogany Mermaids has provided aquatic science programs for youth and hopes to expand their offerings soon. 

“More recently, we shifted to more virtual perspectives by trying to offer scholarships, information, showcase funding from other sources and build a virtual community,” said Griffith. 

She also works to support graduate students through professional development and other professional opportunities as a member of the UNC Initiative for Minority Excellence and Black Graduate and Professional Student Association. 

“I know of a lot of people doing amazing work and have been able to work or be a part of multiple organizations that are not only looking at it from a Black perspective of marine science, but also just a scientific or research perspective,” Griffith explained. 

Recently, Griffith defended her master’s thesis which focused on “how acute disturbances or hurricanes impacted coral reef growth.” Since passing her defense, Griffith has now made history as the first Black student to be accepted as well as receive a degree from the University of North Carolina's marine science graduate program. 

Now she’s preparing to get her doctorate in marine sciences at UNC, currently focusing on coral conservation efforts in Barbados. The work is particularly personal for her since that’s where her family is originally from. Griffith hopes to support conservation by shifting the methodology used to monitor and assess coral reef. 

“Being able to give back to the community in the island that my ancestors are from and be a part of keeping history, as well as helping the future of the island, is something that you feel like you can’t really know, unless it’s that close to home,” said Griffith. 

Congratulations, Aliyah! We can’t wait to see what you do next!

Photo Courtesy of The Daily Tar Heel

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