Meet the first deaf, Black woman to earn a Stem doctorate

Amie Fornah Sankoh

Source: © Donald Danforth Plant Science Center/Patrick Bowey

Amie Fornah Sankoh has persevered from failing primary school in Sierra Leone to gaining a biochemistry PhD in the US

Amie Fornah Sankoh, who grew up in Sierra Leone during the civil war and lost her hearing around three years old, is the first deaf, Black woman to receive a doctorate in any scientific, technical, engineering and maths discipline in the US, and possibly the world. She will graduate with a PhD from the University of Tennessee (UT) Knoxville’s Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology on 20 May.

That’s a far cry from the 12-year-old girl who was failing elementary school in Sierra Leone because she couldn’t hear, and was sent to the US in the hopes that her deafness could be cured there.

‘My father sent me to live with his best friend in America, who adopted me,’ she recalls. ‘Doctors in the US could not cure my deafness, but I was able to join the deaf community where I learned American Sign Language [ASL] over the next few years,’ Fornah continues.