Scientist. Mother. BMX Rider. // Sayum Bussell
Sayum is scientist who works with the pharmaceutical, life science, biotech, and research community to streamline the laboratory experimental process. It has been her goal in life to leave the world a better place along with helping others in regards to oncology diagnoses. Predominantly her experience is in the cancer realm- however – she has practiced in disease state as well. In her personal life she has a huge passion for BMX, friendships, and of course- being a mother to her son Gavin.
Hi Sayum! Thank you for joining us and telling the world you story. Where did you grow up?
The suburbs of Rochester, Michigan. Before anyone rolls their eyes, I am fully aware that area of the Metro Detroit isn’t usually known for overcoming adversity. It was that propensity for entitlement that made me reject the city entirely. I wanted to be surrounded by individuals that were valued for attributes such as morals, ethics.... a call for doing something beyond the norm. Give me grit, a challenge- not decades of status quo and perceived entitlement.
With grit in mind, how has that shaped your mission? In taking on life's challenges, what's down the road for you?
My dad passed when I was 11 from diabetes related complications. This was an event that significantly shaped my career path. Having a parent pass away at a young age is extremely impactful. It changes your entire world/perspective on security. He was my best friend. My hero. All I knew is that I wanted to help others not go through the pain I had to endure. I was intelligent enough to assist in contributing to a solution in regard to improving quality of life, impacting health outcome, and extending lifespan. My pain was transformed into passion. As an extremely successful businessman, it’s what my dad would have wanted. The best way to honor a legend is by embodying what they believed in.
My degree is in Kinesiology with an emphasis in epidemiology. Initially I went to school to be a doctor. However, having a son at the age of 24 impacted this aspiration. It can be very difficult to balance a scientific course load and an infant. Nevertheless, I took the degree I had and made something of it. My counterparts in school went on to internships such as Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Nursing, etc. - I took a different route as a Civilian Contractor in the United States Marine Corps. During this stent I helped educate Marines and their families on health/wellness initiatives that were driven by the DOD. Additionally, working with injured soldiers kinesthetically to get them back to combat readiness.
Since the USMC, I have worked at various positions at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Asterand Biocience, BioIVT, and my current employer- Sartorius, as a Laboratory consultant.
As far as what is ahead? Who knows. However, it has always been my core goal to leave an impact. To help others in light of the hardships I have endured. My career success was attained by a lot of unnecessary struggle; and if I can guide the next generation, individuals who think their dream is non-attainable, or underdog demographic(s)...then I have left this world a better place than I entered it. Cure cancer? The world is my oyster. It’s important for anyone who feels powerless to believe - with certainty - that they are not a product of what happens to them. It is absolutely possible to make a life you’re proud of (no matter the situation).
We love people who reject the status quo and are relentless in the pursuit of their goals. So, what drives you? Anything specific come to mind that keeps you focused?
I would have to say that my life has been a series of subpar events that have led to a phenomenal outcome.
Growing up in Rochester, I never quite fit in. Don’t get me wrong. I tried to, but after repeated rejection you decide to pave your own path. This rejection came from siblings, peers, love interests.... you name it. My dad would always tell me it was the accumulation of envy and pure jealousy that I had a good dad and they didn’t. Until...... I didn’t.
He died October 31, 1999. Only my father would choose to leave this world on a holiday. Ha!
Two of my three brothers didn’t necessarily have the emotional intelligence to build up/support a little girl who wore her sensitivity as armor. Their tough love consisted of WWE SMACKDOWN scenarios and seeing how long they could deprive me of oxygen. “Stop being so sensitive” and “Stop crying” are responses I heard regularly from the people that were supposed to protect me. And, they did.... from everyone else but unfortunately not from themselves. Due to this “hardening” not many things phased me in regard to criticism. I was left alone to essentially raise myself as my mom was trying to support 4 kids. She did the best she could. So, how did I do it? How did I become the person I am despite losing the most important individual in my life?
I remembered him. Fiercely. The one person that protected me in life, also continued to drive me in death. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do within this life was make him proud. Instead of viewing myself as a victim I took his memory and made it so engrained within my drive- that he was living on through me. A person only dies if their memory does (very Día de los Muertos of me, I know). Proving everyone wrong and rising above expectations became my eternal swan song.
This attitude followed me throughout high school, where I found my first passion in life- BMX. Back in 2004 it was simply something girls didn’t do. There were hardly ANY female riders throughout the US, maybe 10 at most.
I was at the skate park watching my boyfriend (at the time) ride, and thought to myself “How lame... I’ve never been a girl to sit on the sidelines and I’m sure as hell not going to start now”- so, I tried to ride. Surprisingly I was pretty good at it. The amazing part was.... that every single man in the sport supported me. You would think in a male predominate sport that they wouldn’t be very inclusive of women (especially then). However, they all embraced me wholeheartedly...For exactly who I was. It was the first time in my life I have ever felt unanimously accepted by a group of people. The sport changed my world, and the people in it became the family I always wanted. Some of my best friends to this day are people who I now refer to as my brothers (Shout out to Mark Flip, Brandon Dosch, James Foster, Leland Thurman, Mike “Hucker” Clark, Kyle Barnhart, Sean Miksys,, Matt Sparks, Bryan Young, Nathanial “Buddy” Boomer, Ben Snowden, Joe Gall, Jamie Dakis, Rob Wise...there are just so many people to thank!).
I don’t think any of my friends know how much their inclusion has shaped my outcome. BMX has taken me places I never have imagined - X Games, Dew Tour, Metro Jam, Woodward West, Woodward East, etc.... These experiences were a result of the people who believed in me. Through their acceptance I became more confident. For the first time in my life I knew that I could do anything I wanted to do. So, I want to thank everyone who believed in me before I even believed in myself.
How have you been rejected along the way? And more importantly, how did you transform that rejection into positive reinforcement towards you goals?
While in BMX I was also trying to attain a degree. Which included changing my major three times prior to deciding Science was a good fit. Once I finally got accepted into a program another obstacle presented itself - pregnancy. Although I had high aspirations to be a doctor, I knew that a Type-A personality wouldn’t be able to balance academic perfection in conjunction of the responsibilities of motherhood. I don’t think I knew what would be up against me as a mom, female scientist, and businesswoman.
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) realm is vastly underrepresented with the female population making up 28% of researchers. BMX has obviously always been male centralized; however, the gap is getting less. Giving women increased visibility in positions of power or success builds a foundation for the next generation. An attainable dream for a little girl who may be curious by nature, compassionate, thinks critically, and wants to leave the world a better place. How is she supposed to do this when she feels not empowered? With comments such as “You’re good at cell isolations.... for a girl”, “She’s just very opinionated”, or putting female before any title.... FEMALE scientist, FEMALE CEO, etc.... it creates gender isolation. Period.
Since college I have put in the work for over 13 years. Took 16 credit hours while I was pregnant (19 when Gavin was 6 months old). Wrote a Thesis. Operated as a civilian contractor in the Marine Corps. Had a professor sit down and tell me I wouldn’t make more than $30k a year. Have been denied for numerous promotions I was more than qualified for. It was conveyed to me that I wouldn’t graduate because of being pregnant. Attained increased job responsibilities that were 10000 percent.... not my job (and, was not compensated for the elevated responsibility). Was subjected to numerous “propositions” by clients (not the close the sale kind or looking for a better deal). Suffered a career demotion due to company changes as new leadership didn’t want to risk taking a chance someone, they were not familiar with. Peers didn’t take me seriously as an “expert” in the field due to the fact I have a son....and so on. I do want to highlight there have been AMAZINGLY supportive people. They have changed my life entirely. Bosses, peers, people from other departments. These beautiful individuals were few and far between.
After my demotion (and huge personal struggles that I won’t delve into), I was at the lowest point of my life. I always believed professionally that if you put in the work a positive outcome would be attained. A huge portion of my identity was based around career success. Not reaping the benefits workwise really hindered my concept of self. In effort to comeback from this depression I started to pour all the energy into restoring the positivity I have always exuded. Hundreds of hours listening to self-help Audibles, therapy, discovering happiness, trying to figure out how I could get back to the person I used to be. I refocused my concentration on the thing I have always been good at - excelling. I applied for new jobs. Heard no, A LOT. Countless interviews. Until....I got a call from a recruiter informing me that someone was interested in what I could bring to the table. I got an offer, elevated job responsibilities, increased pay, and was finally being respected/heard within an organization.
My point in telling all of this is – no one’s life is perfect. Even the people who seem to have it the most together have also had to fight tooth and nail. It’s all about the perspective and what is done in spite of hardship. I have positioned myself in life situations where it was male predominate. I am not sure if this is due to the fact, I have always been comfortable around guys...or if it is because I am a trailblazer. I would like to think it is a little combination of both. It shouldn’t take the circumstances I went through for a child to make their dream a reality. I will (try) to pave the way for others to have an easier future. I was given these obstacles because I am strong enough to endure them. They did not break me – they shaped me. I am the person I am today based on the summation of adversity.
If you could offer a piece of wisdom/advice to someone who is ready to break their own boundaries, what would you tell them?
Be your own cheerleader. Because, we live in a world where people will try to crush you, or conversely, be envious of your success. GAS YOURSELF UP. Be happy for your accomplishments. It’s okay to be proud of yourself.
You have something of value to bring to the table. If someone tries to minimize your voice...be the loudest person in the (f**king) room until you’re heard. Change will not occur if you’re not willing to stand up- even if that means you’re standing alone. No one ever makes history by being complacent.
What mantra do you would want the world to remember you by?
At the end of the day I want everyone to be respected by the work they do versus their history or uncontrollable factors (like gender). When a person feels empowered, they can do anything. I hope that my story will inspire you to take control. Use the factors playing against you as a motivator and PROVE. THEM. WRONG.
What does it mean to you to be fueled by choice?
Simply choosing a path. Will you let your hardships define you? Or, will you define them? It’s 100% your choice. And, I promise you- when you accomplish something that was believed to be unattainable...
That is where greatness is born.
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