Le'Aia Reed

Le’Aia Reed: First woman of color to graduate with a Physics degree at Bellarmine

Great Grads 2021


Le’Aia Reed will graduate from Bellarmine this year with a bachelor’s degree in Physics, becoming only the third woman to do so and the first woman of color.  

When Reed was a child in Cincinnati, she was always interested in the physical world. She excelled in math and science in school, and she thinks it’s because her father was an engineer who worked on elevators and airplane parts.

He died when Reed was only 16. But her love for STEM subjects never faltered, even when they began to get difficult in high school. “I took Chemistry my 10th-grade year, and that's when I really started understanding what medicine is and how our world reacts to what we brought into the world,” she said. But at Bellarmine, she realized that college Chemistry was very different from what she had studied in high school. She consulted her mother about changing her major.  

“I said, ‘What do you think that I really like?’ Because I know my mom: She paid attention to me and she paid attention to what I really liked. She said, ‘I think you would like Physics.’”

Reed realized there are a lot of different things she could do with a Physics degree, so she did change her major. Now she’s working on an invention to help people with mobility issues lift a lot of things at once, and she thinks she can make it happen.  

Her time at Bellarmine was not easy, she said. She even considered dropping out.  

“I felt like I didn't have any motivation at the time,” she said. She reached out to the Office of Identity and Inclusion, which helped her realize that she belonged at Bellarmine. “I just started to talk to people in there, and that's where my motivation built up. That’s why I kept going, why I didn't stop. You know there are people that are looking at you, that you probably wouldn’t even think, that people look up to you. Because you are in an upper class or, just in general, like you just would never know who's watching you and really rooting for you and wanting to see you successful.”

Reed was offered opportunities at larger schools, including The Tuskegee Institute and Ohio University, but she said the campuses were just too big.  

“I'm not really the type of person to go to a big school,” she said. “I like the small community. At Bellarmine, you get to know your teachers a lot more than you would at a really big college.”

For now, she’s not sure if she’s going to apply to graduate school. The U.S. Navy has been in touch, offering to pay for grad school if she becomes a naval officer, which she is considering.  

Her advice to young girls pursuing careers in STEM: “Talk to your teachers and ask for help when you need it. If you don’t ask for help, you’re not going to get it.”

She approached being the first woman of color to graduate with a Physics degree at Bellarmine with a simple attitude: “’If you can do it, I can do it.’”

Despite science being a male-dominated field, Reed didn’t hesitate to pursue her dream and didn’t let other students intimidate her. “Yeah, they're really smart. But you know, you have smart people, and you have really smart people. So, I can learn from them.”



Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.