Ryleigh Fleming leaning against the window frame of a brick building.


University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL

Major: Biology BS

Ryleigh attends the University of Alabama as a third-year biology major with a minor in chemistry. Growing up, her grandfather was a professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Along with being influenced by him, Ryleigh has aunts and cousins who are also engineers. She has always been interested in science, yet for her biology was a better fit, as she knew early she wanted to go to medical school and be the change she wants to see in that field—a black female doctor.

Ryleigh’s mom is Hispanic, and for Ryleigh a perfect opportunity to learn Spanish. She hopes to be able to speak to her Spanish speaking patients some day in their native language, assuring them and creating the most relaxed doctor’s visit as possible. She feels it is important to be well-rounded as a physician, acknowledging the patient as a whole, including their culture. She explains she feels culture and communication go hand-in-hand.

Her summer REU research is with mentor, Dr. Kelly Norris Martin. Her research first involves finalizing a paper for the American Journal of Physics about how in physics there has been a focus on writing for lab reports and communicating to the public, yet there has been much less of a focus on every day communication in the workforce. The article makes recommendations on how communication education could be incorporated into the physics curriculum in higher education.

Secondly, Ryleigh is working with data from previous interviews with STEM field employers from four distinct career areas in the United States (health care, petroleum engineering, advanced manufacturing and information technology. The interview questions inquired about what they value in new employees, how they identify those qualities when hiring,  as well as what kind of training they give new employees. In this data, communication abilities, cultural “fit,” socialization into the company, and its relationship to diversity, are common themes that Ryleigh is exploring.

After graduation Ryleigh plans to attend medical school and wants to be an infectious disease doctor. She understands how poverty and inequalities can be perpetuated by an individual’s distinct disadvantage, not having access to good health care.