Starks is the daughter of Daryl and Maxine Starks of Fairfield. She became interested in science in high school and participated in a summer program at UAB. She studied biology at Alabama A&M University, returning to UAB to shadow radiation oncologist Sharon Spencer for one summer internship. In successive summers she also interned at the University of Michigan and at the Science Applications International Corporation in Huntsville.
Starks completed her bachelor's degree in 2002 and went on to graduate school at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. While there she worked as a graduate teaching assistant and served as Director of the Empowerment Temple AME Church's summer internship program. Under a Meyerhoff Graduate Fellowship, she conducted dissertation research on genetic and age-related factors in immune response in fruit flies. She completed her Ph.D. in biological sciences in 2010 and continued her research as a post-doctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, studying disparate aggressive tumor growth in African-American cancer patients.
While in Baltimore, Starks began serving as COO of Equity Matters, a social justice organization that seeks to diminish inequality in health outcomes stemming from social, political, and economic status. In January 2016 Starks founded STREAM Innovations in Birmingham to help students in underserved communities gain access to career opportunities in a wide range of disciplines. The organization's name expands the familiar "STEM" acronym (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) with recognition of the importance of Reading and Arts. The program made its debut in June 2017 at the Inglenook Recreation Center and Inglenook Library with summer programs for grade schoolers.
In March 2022 a life-size 3-D printed statue of Starks was one of 120 exhibited at the National Mall in Washington D.C. during Women’s History Month as part of the Smithsonian Institution's "#IfThenSheCan" program.
- Johnson, Roy S. (May 31, 2017) "Scientist who grew from Fairfield plants seeds, aspires to nurture others beyond STEM." The Birmingham News