JEDIDAH C. ISLER, Ph.D., is an astrophysicist and STEM advocate, and the first African-American woman to receive a master’s degree in Physics from Yale University.
Jedidah, who has written award-winning studies on blazars and examines the jet streams emanating from them, spent her childhood admiring the stars from her home.
It wasn’t until she was 12 years old that she discovered the industry of astronomy itself and it was then she sought to study science professionally.
She graduated Magna cum Laude with a Bachelor’s of Science in Physics at Norfolk State University’s Dozoretz National Institute for Math and Applied Sciences (DNIMAS).
From there, she became one of the first three student members of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program, a program designed to increase the number of women and under-represented minorities with advanced STEM degrees. She earned an M.A. in Physics from Fisk University.
She moved on to Yale, where she earned an M.S. in Physics, and later became the first African-American woman in history to earn a Ph.D in astronomy. In 2015, Isler gave a talk on intersectionality in STEM industries and education.
She noted: “According to Dr. Jamie Alexander’s archive of African-American women in physics, only 18 black women in the United States had ever earned a Ph.D. in a physics-related discipline, and that the first black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in an astronomy-related field did so just one year before my birth.”
She was often the only African-American in her classes, and endured years of backhanded comments. In an NPR interview, Isler recalled an exchange with her classmates during her first year at Yale.
“So there are plates everywhere,” she recalls. “And all of a sudden, this kid in my class hands me a pile of his dirty plates” — the student is a white male — “he just kind of hands them to me and says, ‘Here, now go and do what you’re really here to do.'”
In 2014, Isler published her doctoral dissertation, In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion: Probing the Disk-Jet Connection in Fermi Gamma-Ray Bright Blazars, which earned the Roger Doxsey Dissertation Prize from the American Astronomical Society.
A blazar is a compact quasar (quasi-stellar radio source) associated with a presumed supermassive black hole at the center of an active, giant elliptical galaxy. Blazars are among the most energetic phenomena in the universe and are an important topic in extragalactic astronomy.