Amie Fornah Sankoh is the first deaf Black woman to earn a doctorate in STEM

BY Nii Ntreh May 7, 2024 6:20 PM EDT
Amie Fornah Sankoh is the first known deaf student to graduate with a STEM PhD.

Amie Fornah Sankoh, a student from Knoxville, Tennessee, who suffered hearing loss at the age of 3, recently made history as the first Black woman with hearing loss to obtain a doctorate in STEM in the United States of America.

Born and raised in Sierra Leone, Amie Sankoh had difficulties growing up that stemmed from the bitter experience of her country’s civil war and her hearing loss. She had challenges at school due to her hearing loss, and her father, searching for a solution to the ear problem, decided to transfer her to the US to live with his best friend, who adopted her, hoping to find a cure for her deafness.

However, the young lady could not be cured and succumbed to gradually learning American Sign Language (ASL). Through this, she found a sense of belonging in the deaf community. Even while she faced challenges in school, she fell in love with mathematics.

Amie Sankoh maintained her academic excellence in high school, where she first discovered her love for advanced mathematics and chemistry. She particularly enjoyed monitoring, deciphering, and predicting chemical interactions.

Her love for STEM led her to work as a lab technician and pursue higher education. Amie attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she graduated with an associate’s degree in laboratory sciences before earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

After college graduation, Amie Sankoh chose to work in a lab because she derived joy in participating in research. She was motivated to pursue her studies further and decided to apply to the UT Knoxville Ph.D. program. Her doctoral work focused on understanding how hormones affect interactions of plants-pathogens.

However, Amie Sankoh had a significant communication barrier with her colleagues. It became more difficult when Covid-19 struck and nearly forced her to discontinue her doctorate studies. However, her mentor and coworkers made efforts regularly to reduce those challenges and assisted her in succeeding in her academic pursuits.

Painstakingly, Amie Sankoh surmounted all the challenges and self-limitations and crowned her efforts with an unprecedented historic feat when she earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Amie Sankoh finally celebrated her remarkable accomplishment joyfully with her biological parents, who flew miles away from Sierra Leone to the US for her graduation.

Amie Sankoh, who has already contributed as an author to four scientific publications, is about to start her postdoctoral work at the Danforth Plant Science Centre in Missouri.