Meet the Imperial alumni working to increase diversity in STEM and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Interviews: Sarah Woodward 

Our Imperial alumni

Dr Kayisha Payne

Dr Kayisha Payne

(MSc Chemical Engineering 2017). Founder of BBSTEM, Associate (Healthcare and Life Sciences), Alvarez & Marsal, London.

What inspired you to set up BBSTEM soon after finishing your MSc?

I have long felt that young Black British people need to see successful people on similar journeys to themselves. Though if my mum hadn’t been bragging about me to one of her old school friends one evening when we were out shopping together, BBSTEM would probably never have happened! Through that conversation I met a Black guy in his early 30s who had studied engineering at university and was now doing well in business. It was the first time I had met someone with a similar background to me doing what I hoped to do. It was inspirational and I thought there should be a network to help promote career opportunities in STEM for young Black people.

How did your time studying at Imperial help you personally on your journey? 

Getting to study at Imperial made me realise I, too, was deserving and could occupy a space that other respected individuals would notice. And, of course, being at Imperial is a big advantage in entering the job market, as I didn’t struggle with job offers. Imperial became one of the first universities to join the BBSTEM University Alliance and continues to be one of our biggest supporters.

BBSTEM will be six years old in December. What does the future hold?

Black British individuals are as likely as the dominant domicile ethnic group to choose to study and strive for a career in STEM. BBSTEM is self-funding, and it succeeds because of the individuals who have freely given their time and shared their experience. We organise events for Black British graduates, provide a job board and are creating a corporate network. Our mission is to have Black parity in the UK’s STEM workforce, from school to the highest level in industry. So while I do still question the lack of opportunity for young Black British people, I am also determined to continue to do something about it.

Dr Kayisha Payne was the STEM Rising Star Winner at the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards) 2019. 

Lame Verre

Lamé Verre

(MBA 2015). Co-Founder and Board Co-Chair of Lean In Equity and Sustainability, Head of Strategy, Innovation and Sustainability – SSE Energy Customer Solutions. 

Your career started in 2000 as a Corporate Planning and Development Officer for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in Abuja, Nigeria. What led you to your MBA 13 years later?

I had never even heard of fracking until I saw the movie, Gasland, in 2014, which made me want to understand the science around it. I took a Master’s in Environmental Technology at Imperial, focusing on the environmental health around fracking and its effect on communities. I was one of only a few Americans on the course and the range of life experiences and backgrounds of the other students in my cohort was incredible. Karen Makuch was the lecturer who gave me my first exposure to environmental law and very early on in the course I realised that this was what I wanted to keep doing.

What lessons did you learn from your MBA?

Doing an MBA means you meet people who have self-selected to be there to study, learn and meet new people – that gives a different vibe, energy and relationship within the cohort. Imperial nurtures your innate DNA, and being sector-agnostic also expanded our frame of references and networks beyond our sectors. My time at Imperial set me on a journey, using my new tools and building blocks to become an entrepreneur and cultivate my three passion points – gender diversity, energy and the African continent.

What led you to set up Lean In during the recent pandemic?

Women were disproportionately impacted by job losses during the pandemic and the crude oil price depression of spring 2020, especially women in middle management. This, unfortunately, resulted in a regression of some of the gains in gender parity made in previous years. I wanted to do something tangible to support women in acquiring the tools and strategies needed to navigate the inevitability of bias in the workplace.

In March 2023, Lamé Verre was appointed as a Global Future Council Member 2023/2024 – The Future of the Energy Transition for the World Economic Forum.

Joana Moscoso

Dr Joana Moscoso

(PhD Life Sciences 2013). Co-Founder and Director of Native Scientists, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Chaperone

When did you first become interested in science?

I grew up in the peaceful medieval town of Valença do Minho in the north of my native Portugal. When I was nine, we had a school lesson about bacteria. I was immediately fascinated and told everyone I wanted to become a scientist. ‘Don’t be crazy’ was the reaction, right up until I was 17. It was the first barrier I felt as a child and one I was determined to break.

You became a scientist and set out to encourage others on the same path. When did you start volunteering?

I only really felt I was a scientist at the end of the first year of my PhD, when my first paper was published. I wanted to give something back to society and, through the volunteering service at Imperial, I helped out in a local primary school. At the time, I had no experience of teaching science to children, English is not my native language, and the class was very multi-cultural. Then I met Dr Tatiana Correa, and we started organising workshops that connected scientists and children to spark interest in science among Portuguese-speaking primary school children in London.

Together you founded Native Scientists. How did that happen?

After the first successful workshop, we entered four social entrepreneurship contests and won them all. But if it wasn’t for Imperial’s nurturing environment, Native Scientists – our non-profit organisation connecting scientists with schoolchildren across Europe to reduce inequalities, promote quality education and celebrate diversity – would probably not exist. I had never before felt the encouragement I experienced at Imperial; I could be a scientist, and I did not have to hide my entrepreneurial side. It finally felt normal to have ideas outside the box!

Founded by Dr Joana Moscoso and Dr Tatiana Correa, Native Scientists has a network of more than 3,000 scientists across Europe, and their educational programmes have established more than 20,000 connections between scientists and children.