The Class of 2008
Each year, as we select our “Emerging Scholars,” we’re always amazed and inspired by the accomplishments of these under-40 intellectuals. This year is no exception.
The Class of 2008 includes a math biologist who was only the second woman to receive the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in math; a geneticist who recently became one of 20 winners of the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers; and an extensively published educational equity law expert who was the Education Law Association’s inaugural recipient of its Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship for Education Law.
Beyond the accolades, we always find compelling the personal stories of perseverance, resilience and dedication. Like the educational psychologist who was unprepared for the rigors of college but self-corrected his study skills in order to earn three degrees. And the political science professor who, as a boy during summer breaks, tilled the land with his farm-worker parents but also heeded the “get an education” message of parents who never made it past the sixth grade. And the Black woman physicist, who, lacking role models who looked like her, questioned whether she could succeed in a field dominated by White men but went on to become one of three women physicists of color at a top 100 research institution.
We think you’ll be similarly amazed and inspired by this year’s crop of “Emerging Scholars.”
AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES AND RELIGION
Reaching Out to the Post-Civil Rights Generation
Eddie Glaude Jr.
Title: The William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University
Education: Ph.D., Religion, Princeton University; M.A., Religion, Princeton University; M.A., African-American Studies, Temple University; B.A., Political Science, Morehouse College
The decade of the 1990s saw the emergence of a number of Black scholars whose speeches and writings on race reached a broad audience of Americans and were hailed as public intellectuals. This decade, Black intellectuals, representing the most recent generation of scholars and public figures in their 30s and 40s, have begun to make themselves heard on a variety of topics, including post-civil rights politics, the impact of hip-hop culture and race relations.
Any serious list of these newly influential Black public intellectuals should include Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. Although Glaude may be best known as a collaborator with Dr. Cornel West and talk show host Tavis Smiley on the efforts that launched the Covenant With Black America, his writings and speeches on post-civil rights politics, including In A Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, stand to definitively shape the thinking of Blacks and others born during and after the civil rights movement.
Glaude’s In A Shade of Blue, published in 2007, urges African-Americans to be mindful of the civil rights experience, but avoid “fixed ideas and categories of the past” that could limit the impact of Black political action. He contends that the ideas of pragmatism elaborated by American philosopher John Dewey are appropriate to the renewal of African-American politics.
A native of Moss Point, Miss., Glaude says his career owes much of its current prominence to mentorship by leading senior scholars, rigorous self-study and intellectual discipline, and good fortune. Raised in a working-class family, Glaude credits his parents with making education the highest priority for Glaude, his brother and two sisters.
“I’ve been blessed. I’ve been in the right places to connect with people who’ve helped and influenced me enormously,” he notes.
There’s currently an all-star cast of Black scholars based at Princeton that includes two of Glaude’s former mentors. They are West and Dr. Albert Raboteau, a professor of religion and African-American studies, who now count themselves as friends and colleagues of the young scholar.
West helped recruit Glaude, who had been in the African-American studies Ph.D. program at Temple University in the early 1990s, to Princeton where Glaude eventually earned his doctorate in religion. Glaude had originally gone to Temple because of the inauguration of its African-American studies Ph.D. program, the first such program in the United States. At Princeton, Glaude’s intellectual interest in Black nationalism, which had been his preoccupation while at Temple, led him to document its U.S. roots in Black religious practices from the early 19th century. In 2000, Glaude saw the publication of Exodus!: Religion, Race and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America, the culmination of his research on Black nationalism’s basis in African-American religion.
“What Glaude has done is to locate Black nationalism much more centrally in the mainstream emergences of the Black churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal church. … He broke new ground in the understanding of Black religious thought and identity. I see widespread references to that book,” Raboteau says.
A political science major at Morehouse College, Glaude initially encountered theology and Black nationalist politics while studying those subjects in religion and African-American history courses. It was also at Morehouse where Glaude would form friendships with fellow students who are the founding members of The Jamestown Project, a Massachusetts-based action-oriented think tank of diverse young leaders.
Prior to joining the Princeton faculty, Glaude spent six years teaching at Bowdoin College in Maine. His SUNY Stony Brook sociologist wife, Dr. Winnifred Brown-Glaude, was teaching at the University of Southern Maine then. “It was a wonderful time. My wife and I were raising our son. I was researching and improving my teaching skills,” he recalls.
Glaude says his move to Princeton coincided with West returning to Princeton from Harvard in the fall 2002. Since then, the two as well as Raboteau have closely worked together and collaborated on projects that have brought attention to the scholars.
“He’s been a student of mine, and he’s been a student of Cornel West. He has the same breadth of interests as West, the same eloquence; he’s a charismatic teacher. These are qualities that allow him to have a public forum,” Raboteau says.
— By Ronald Roach
Publishing, Rather Than Perishing
Title: Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology and Counselor Education, University of Texas at Austin
Education: Ph.D., Counseling Psychology, Georgia State University; M.Ed., Counselor Education, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; B.A., Psychology, Wake Forest University
Dr. Kevin Cokley effortlessly excelled as a high school student in his small rural town of Pilot Mountain, N.C. When he arrived at Wake Forest University, however, he struggled in the classroom for the first time in his life.
Cokley, now an educational psychologist at the University of Texas, lacked study skills and did not know how to manage his time.
“When I tell African-American students my story about my abysmal first semester and early academic struggles, they are usually amazed and inspired by my resilience and subsequent accomplishments,” Cokley says.
The once under-prepared Cokley trained himself on the fly and managed to earn three degrees. Now, about 30 publications, eight book chapters and 60 conference presentations later, he is one of the most prepared and up-and-coming educational psychologists in higher education.
“Dr. Cokley is a well-published scholar in the field of counseling,” says Dr. Edmund T. Emmer, the chair of UT’s department of education psychology where Cokley just finished his first semester. “He has been well received by students and colleagues.”
The Association of Black Psychologists recently honored Cokley with its 2007 Scholarship Award. He has also earned an award from the American Psychological Association and had the honor of publishing in the Harvard Educational Review.
Cokley, who before UT taught at the University of Missouri- Columbia and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, has racked up honors as a researcher in the area of Black psychology. He has sought to inquire about the construction of racial and ethnic identities and the psychological factors that impact Black student achievement.
“My research in many ways reflects my experiences as a Black male trying to negotiate the challenges of excelling academically at an elite, predominantly White university,” says Cokley, who is also an associate editor of the Journal of Black Psychology.
One of the ways that Cokley has excelled as a scholar — publishing instead of perishing — is by following the advice of a senior scholar who told him he should always have manuscripts in three stages of progress: in press, under review and in preparation.
“I have worked very hard to stick to this,” says Cokley, who published articles in six journals in 2007, in addition to a book chapter with another in press. “And it has served me well.”
But Cokley didn’t always want to be an academician. He initially went for his master’s in counselor education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to become a director of an office of minority affairs. However, the more articles and books he read by prominent counseling psychologists like Dr. Thomas Parham, Dr. Janet Helms and Dr. Derald Wing Sue, the more he drifted towards the academic realm of Black psychology.
“I liked the fact that there was an area of psychology that focused on race, and especially racial identity, as an important psychological variable,” says Cokley.
Since appearing and thriving in this realm, Cokley’s most challenging task has been luring other Blacks in with him. Cokley says most of the talented Black graduate students in counseling psychology become practitioners instead of researchers and professors, which are less lucrative options.
“It is frustrating for me, and a loss to our profession, to see many talented African-American students not seriously consider research-oriented careers,” he says. “I’m a strong believer that it is just as important for African-Americans to be producers of culturally relevant psychological research that is beneficial to African-American communities.”
Cokley has been on his own research mission to produce studies that inform policies and practices concerning Black education.
“I believe that my research will show that the importance of a positive racial and ethnic identity lies not so much in a direct causal relationship with academic outcomes,” he says. “But rather, in producing African-Americans who have a deep and abiding love for their people, are committed to the pursuit of educational excellence and are committed to alleviating the social problems facing Black communities.”
— By Ibram Rogers
A Teacher’s Tenacity
Title: Assistant Professor of Electronics Engineering and Director, Center for Gaming and Simulation, Norfolk State University
Education: Ph.D., Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering; M.E., Computer Engineering, Old Dominion University; B.Eng., King’s College, University of London
At the early age of 14, Dr. Rasha Morsi knew that her life’s calling was teaching others. But the encouragement of a grade school math teacher propelled her on the path to academia.
“She kind of made me think, ‘wait a minute, I can do this … I really am good at math.’ Her words of encouragement were very important,” says Morsi, who was born in Egypt and raised in London and Egypt. “I knew I wanted to be a professor at a university. I knew I had to work hard toward earning a Ph.D. … and I’m very stubborn. If I say I’m going to succeed at something, I’m going to do it.”
Today, Morsi is living her childhood dream. She joined the Norfolk State University faculty in 2003 and since then has helped the university garner close to $1 million in research grants. Morsi is praised for her cutting-edge engineering research, which centers on modeling and simulation and the development and design of Web-based educational games and tools.
After arriving at NSU, Morsi set out to examine the plight of the country’s future engineers and technology experts, who, she says, need more research opportunities in the areas of modeling and simulation. In efforts to fill this niche, Morsi spearheaded the development of the university’s Center for Gaming and Simulation: an educational mecca that uses games and other Web-based tools to reinforce classroom instruction. Many of these tools, Morsi explains, generate random problem statements and allow students to solve questions in a step-by-step manner.
“Retention rates for engineering students are low nationwide, and employing new and innovative techniques in our teaching seemed like an excellent opportunity to improve these rates through trying to make learning engineering fun,” says Morsi.
She notes that through funding from the Norfolk Foundation, what started as a vacant space has expanded to more than a dozen gaming machines, including three-dimensional software and displays. “One of the things I love doing is helping to build an entity, and this really was an opportunity for me to be a part of building something from scratch.”
Dr. Sandra J. DeLoatch, dean of NSU’s School of Science and Technology, says Morsi’s visionary and leadership qualities have helped the university stay at the forefront of the engineering and technology fields.
“We are looking to find areas of excellence in our school and in the area of modeling and simulation; she (Morsi) has put Norfolk State in the arena … there’s a lot of modeling and simulation work going on presently, and she’s making us a major player in a big way,” says DeLoatch, adding that Morsi is last year’s recipient of NSU’s University Award of Excellence — the institution’s highest honor bestowed on faculty.
In recent years, Morsi has received numerous honors for her scholarship, including the department of engineering’s Overall Award for excellence in research at NSU, teaching and service work in the department of engineering. Morsi also strives to improve the recruitment and retention of minority females in the science, engineering and technology disciplines by advising NSU’s Girls in Science, Engineering and Technology Club, which she founded in 2004.
She is currently finalizing the development of a summer gaming workshop tailored for high school and middle school students and has future plans to develop gaming systems that target K-12
When asked what career advice she would give to other young scholars, Morsi replies, “Don’t stick to what you know. Go for new opportunities and new avenues because you may still excel at those things, and it may even help boost your career.”
— By Dana Forde
Title: Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering Education, Purdue University
Education: Ph.D., Higher Education Administration, Vanderbilt University; M.S., Industrial Engineering, University of Alabama; B.S., Mathematics, Spelman College
When it comes to the consistently low number of STEM doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens each year, Dr. Monica F. Cox says, “we are in a crisis.” For instance, American Mathematical Society statistics reveal that only 433 of the 1,116 math Ph.D.s awarded by U.S. universities in 2004-2005 went to U.S. citizens — a 10-year low. When broken down by minorities, the numbers are even starker as of that group of 433 citizens, only 14 were Black and 12 were Hispanic.
Cox, an assistant professor of engineering education and the first African-American female engineering faculty member hired at Purdue University, says her research at Purdue has focused on enhancing engineering education at the graduate level, making it more accessible and effective for U.S.-native students like her who might not have been exposed to engineering at a young age.
“I wasn’t exposed to engineering until I was 18 years old,” Cox says. “I didn’t realize it was an option. I came from a rural community in Alabama. I was valedictorian of my class, but we didn’t have AP classes or international baccalaureate classes at all.”
Nevertheless, Cox’s interest in engineering was piqued at the age of 10 when she saw the space shuttle Challenger break up shortly after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 1986. Cox wondered what could have been done to avoid that tragedy and later got a chance to find out while working as a researcher at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., as a Spelman undergrad.
There she met the late Dr. Etta Falconer, one of the first Black women to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics and the former director of Spelman’s NASA Women in Science Program. Falconer encouraged Cox to apply for a GEM Fellowship from the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science. Through that program, Cox went on to earn a master’s in industrial engineering.
Cox titled her master’s thesis “Human Error Reduction in NASA Ground Payload Operations,” and her research uncovered a number of ways to enhance numerous facets of NASA missions, down to reducing errors among individual ground controllers.
“I just realized the connection of people once again, and the people part translated into education,” Cox says. “I wanted to look within an academic environment into what was going on and make things more productive and solve problems. An engineer is a problem–solver, but I just learned how to solve problems in a different context,” she adds.
However, the further Cox took her education, the less people she saw that looked like her, she says. Though she could have pursued lucrative opportunities in the private sector after obtaining her master’s, Cox decided to further her education to see if she could help fill the pipeline with more engineers and engineering educators.
“I was one of the few African-American or minority females within a predominately male, Caucasian environment. I wanted to know why there weren’t more people who obtained graduate degrees in engineering with me,” Cox says. “I wanted to do more research on engineering education to understand why more people weren’t entering engineering, especially at the master’s and the Ph.D. levels.”
After obtaining a doctorate in 2005, Cox accepted a faculty appointment in 2006 within the newly created Department of Engineering Education at Purdue.
Cox has hit the ground running at Purdue, collaborating with a multidisciplinary group of scholars to win more than $1.6 million in federal research grants and winning the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award.
Cox says she honed her multidisciplinary approach to research and teaching at Vanderbilt, which was “a very multidisciplinary community, so they valued the expertise that I brought from the math field, from industrial engineering and education. And I worked with people in psychology as well, so I did a lot with assessment and evaluation,” she says. “Once I got to my doctoral program, I understood that from a disciplinary perspective, I was not alone.”
And Dr. Heidi Diefes-Dux, associate professor of engineering education at Purdue, says Cox’s interdisciplinary approach fills an important void at Purdue, referencing a class Cox teaches titled, “Leadership Policy and Change.”
Diefes-Dux says this course represents Cox’s “passion to develop students’ understanding of policy. It’s not something we have here at Purdue, even in our College of Education, so she’s really trying to develop this area of our graduate students’ education and trying to recruit students that are not just in our department but across the College of Engineering,” Diefes-Dux says. “She’s trying to forge a piece of curriculum that’s really missing here at Purdue.”
— By David Pluviose
Cooking Up Achievement
Title: Assistant Professor of Genetics and Medical Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Education: Postdoctoral research, University of California Berkeley, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology; Ph.D., Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; B.S., Biology, Syracuse University
At the start of each semester, the first thing Dr. Ahna Skop wants to know from her genetics students is if they know how to cook.
“The best advice I ever received was ‘never trust a scientist who can’t cook,’” Skop says. “Cooking is what we do in a lab. Each experiment is a recipe.”
Cooking is more than a metaphor for this highly respected geneticist. During her graduate studies she, like many uncertain students, decided she should have a back-up plan in case a career in science was not to be. “I am dyslexic. I do terribly on tests, and my failed tests were evidence that maybe I should not be in science,” she says. “I decided, since I love to cook, I would be a chef.”
But in fact, a career as a geneticist was in the recipe cards for Skop. Since accepting a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison three years ago, Skop’s research on cell division has been widely recognized. In November, she was one of 20 scientists to win the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. Skop was honored for her groundbreaking research on finding links between how animal and plant cells divide. Understanding how and why cells divide is critical to finding cures for cancer and other diseases.
“We had a need for expertise in this area,” says Dr. Michael R. Culbertson, chair of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health/College of Agricultural & Life Sciences. “Ahna fit the bill perfectly because of her unique expertise in the emerging area of genetics called proteomics, which makes use of novel approaches to identify proteins involved in cellular processes.”
Skop attributes her success to possessing a driving need to be creative. “There is a huge amount of creativity in science,” she says. Skop likes to visualize her lab work from a painter’s perspective by recreating cells and amoebas on her computer. She calls it the “beauty of biology,” and every other year she curates the C. elegans Art Show at the International C. elegans Meeting, sponsored by the Genetics Society of America.
Her parents, who are both teachers and artists, nurtured that creative spirit. Skop, the oldest of four children, recalls growing up in a Kentucky household that was filled with student artists. Though she knew she had an artistic interest and talent, it was science that caught her imagination.
“My parents would drive us across the Kentucky border into Cincinnati and drop us off at the library,” she says. “They would show us where the science journals were located, give us ice cream money and bus fare to get home at the end of the day.”
Developing research skills early in life led Skop to explore the veracity of an old generational myth — having American Indian blood in the family tree. During her undergrad years she researched and put together a genetic lineage with definite links to the Eastern Cherokee tribe of North Carolina. As one of only a few American Indian assistant professors in the country working at a top 50 research institution, Skop is committed to reaching out to young Native students. She often hosts visiting Native high school students in her lab. She is actively involved with the local campus chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, as well the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
Proximity to tight-knit communities was paramount to her career in academia. After finishing her postdoctoral work at UC-Berkeley, Skop decided she wanted to get out of the fast-paced Bay area and return to Wisconsin.
“I had a lot of offers, but I missed the Madison community. I was never a big city girl,” she says. “And the UW is a great place for research. My department is one of the best in the country. I couldn’t pass it up.”
— By Mark Anthony Rolo
Exploring the Intersections of Diverse Disciplines
PABLO REID MITCHELL
Title: Associate Professor, Department of History, and Director, Comparative American Studies Program, Oberlin College
Education: Ph.D., History, University of Michigan; M.A., History, University of New Mexico; B.A., History, Swarthmore College
It’s no wonder that Dr. Pablo Mitchell likes to explore the intersections of diverse academic disciplines. As a native of New Mexico and a person of mixed heritage — his mother is from Panama, his father is Anglo — who studied in the East, Southwest and Midwest, he brings a broad perspective to his studies of American history.
Mitchell’s love of history was sparked in childhood, when he read James Michener’s Centennial and other historical novels. He writes with a novelist’s attention to detail and character, doing such a good job that his first book, Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race, and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880-1920, won the 2007 Ray Allen Billington Prize, awarded biennially by the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American frontier history. (“Coyote” is slang for a person of mixed Anglo and Latino
Mitchell credits much of his early academic success to receiving a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and to the mentoring he received as a MMUF fellow. Now he can return the favor to incoming MMUF students at Oberlin. He also is quick to thank his academic advisors and other mentors who encouraged him to work hard on his writing and steered him toward graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where he joined a diverse body of Latino students from many parts of the country. Mitchell adds that Latino students at the college are encouraged to develop a “pan-ethnic sense of what it is to be Latino.”
At Michigan he was also encouraged by faculty member Dr. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg to apply theories of sexuality to his own work as a historian. His current book, with the working title West of Sex: The Making of Latino America 1900-1930, continues to explore Latino sexuality.
“I am very interested in interdisciplinary, intersectional approaches,” Mitchell says. “I am also interested in sexuality and gender. Traditional studies in sexuality, if they did look at race, looked at it as a Black-White binary, so I wondered, where does Latino history fit into that? In terms of Latino history, not a lot of attention was being paid to sexuality and to how sexual differences created inequalities in communities.”
As Mitchell conducts his research, he relies on an unusual source: transcripts of criminal court cases involving Latinos, because so little has been written about Latino culture in the early 20th century. Cases that were argued in the higher courts had to be transcribed, producing a verbatim record that tells Mitchell about the biases and conflicts of the people involved.
“Those transcripts are a hundred pages sometimes, of question-answer, question-answer,” he says. “They have such rich detail about how people lived their lives, and how people spoke, as well. You get a sense of whom the police are targeting in terms of their sexual habits, which people are getting prosecuted, which people aren’t; and I think that has a lot to do with class and social differences.”
After completing this book, Mitchell plans to write a history of people of mixed ancestry in the United States. It’s an aspect of American history he has experienced firsthand, and another gap he’s identified in the written records. He plans to focus on “theoretical ways of what it means to be between cultures and move back and forth.”
The narrative threads that drew Mitchell into history in the first place are still strongly at work, as he continues to research the issues that bring people together and also keep them apart.
“There are still some pretty clear boundaries, and people who cross them are reminded frequently that they are crossing them,” he says. “I am interested in those people’s lives and their stories.”
— By Patricia Valdata
Defining His Own Agenda
Title: Assistant Professor of Law and Co-director, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, University of California-Berkeley
Education: J.D., Yale Law School; M.A., Psychology, Philosophy & Physiology, Oxford University; B.S., Biological Sciences, Stanford University
Goodwin Liu jokingly refers to his academic foray into medicine as “the path of least resistance.” After all, both his parents were doctors. While they never pressured him to follow in their footsteps, he didn’t consider doing anything else. So he diligently studied biology and the sciences as an undergraduate, while pursuing politics, public education and social issues as side interests. Until he became a Rhodes Scholar.
At Oxford University, he studied philosophy, which he considers a bridge between science and law.
And one summer, he worked as an intern for an attorney who practiced education law.
Liu was inspired to go to law school, not medical school. And in another epiphany, he realized he wanted to teach at a university, where he could research and write as much as he wanted.
“In academia, you’re your own boss,” he says. “You’re defining your own agenda without having to work for the clients.”
However, he quickly adds that the two years he spent as an appellate litigator for a Washington, D.C., law firm was valuable in showing him how private practice works. He was also a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2000.
“The firm knew my ambitions all along,” he says. “They were very supportive of my academic leanings.”
Currently, he is co-director of the University of California-Berkeley law school’s Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity, which launched in 2005. His expertise is in constitutional law, education policy, civil rights and the Supreme Court. Since joining the Berkeley faculty in 2003, he has taught courses such as fundamental rights, constitutional law and educational law and policy.
Liu encourages young scholars “to be true to what you’re interested in.”
“There’s a point at which your passion becomes more than just a hobby,” he says. “If you do the work you care most about, that’s where you’ll find true satisfaction. You simply won’t find passion and intellectual honesty in an area you don’t care about.”
The main challenge he has faced in academic life has been balancing the many demands on his time.
“Students ask for a lot of time, and it’s understandable because they can relate a little better to the younger faculty than they do the older faculty,” he says. “But on the other hand, I have to keep up my scholarship.”
He was drawn to Berkeley largely because of its interdisciplinary strengths in social science, education and public policy. And having grown up in the California capital of Sacramento, he was well aware of the state’s diversity as well as its reputation for social and political pioneering for racial justice. “It’s been a dream working here,” he says.
Liu’s articles include “Education, Equality and National Citizenship,” The Yale Law Journal; “The Parted Paths of School Desegregation and School Finance Litigation,” Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice; and “Brown, Bollinger and Beyond,” Howard Law Journal.
He’s working on future articles for the Iowa Law Review and the Harvard Law & Policy Review, among others.
Last November, the Education Law Association named Liu its inaugural recipient of its Steven S. Goldberg Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Education Law.
“When it comes to racial and ethnic justice, Goodwin is one of our not-so-secret weapons in making UC-Berkeley the center of the universe for basic research and policy development,” says Christopher Edley Jr., law school dean and co-director of the Warren Institute along with Liu.
“He’s already a leading voice nationally on education law and policy. His Washington experience gives him an enormous range from deep theory to savvy policy prescription to laser-sharp advocacy,” Edley says. “He’s affable, but then he stands up to give a talk or teach a class, and this big scary brain pops out of his head. Forget Google, I bought stock in Goodwin a long time ago.”
— By Lydia Lum
Connecting the Dots
Title: Associate Professor of Mathematics and Co-director, Mathematics Biology Research Group, University of Michigan
Education: Ph.D., Applied Mathematics; M.S., Applied Mathematics, University of Washington; B.S., Mathematics, Arizona State University summa cum laude
Dr. Trachette Jackson would never have guessed she would be considered one of the nation’s youngest preeminent scholars in the burgeoning field of mathematical biology, particularly since she went to college to become an engineer.
“Although I was always good at math, I always wanted to be an engineer,” says Jackson. “But a mathematics professor actually recognized my talents, took me under his wing and steered me away from engineering.”
The move has turned out to be a good one for Jackson.
She’s become one of a handful of tenured Black women in a math department at a Research I university and has won a slew of awards for her work.
She was one of the very best 118 young faculty members in the math and sciences to receive the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in 2003. She’s only the second female to receive the award in the field of math.
“This is an excellent mathematician, and she really is after the biology [of math],” says Dr. Mike Reed, professor of math at Duke University where Jackson did some postdoctoral work along with her husband. “She’s really driven by the science and if you’re driven by the science, then success follows. I have tremendous admiration for her for that.”
Jackson chose to work at Michigan seven years ago, attracted by a tenured position but more so by a university where research was truly emphasized.
“The research environment was really a selling feature,” she says. “My area of math relies on collaboration with a medical school really active on the research side. And the mathematics department had a sincere desire to advance in this research area. I would get to shape that and where it would go.”
But teaching and researching mathematics biology isn’t just a way to earn a living, it’s Jackson’s way of doing something to better society.
With mathematical biology, Jackson uses mathematical tools and mathematical theory to help advance the biological sciences.
Currently, her work focuses on cancer tumor growth and tumor therapy and using cell-based mathematical and computational approaches to simulate how blood vessels form in cancer growth.
She’s been part of numerous publications on the topic, including one in the 2007 Biophysical Journal.
The only small challenge so far has been trying to hold it all together, Jackson says.
“Once you have tenure, you have lots of things that take you away from research — teaching, service to the university, family — everything has to be juggled.”
But it’s a juggling act that Jackson, an admitted perfectionist, doesn’t mind tackling. She also finds time to read voraciously and play on a club women’s soccer team at the university.
“She’s an extremely hard worker,” Reed says. “She’s also an extremely nice person. She’s the exact opposite of a mathematics nerd.”
Jackson’s advice to younger scholars is the same bit of advice that keeps her going — pursue your passions.
“Someone once told me to find what you love and vigorously pursue it,” she says. “Once I found that math had all these opportunities to say something about the real world, it made me vigorously pursue a career in math. I hope what I do can serve as an example that math can be a career goal.”
— By Add Seymour Jr.
A Fascination for Physics
Title: Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Education: Ph.D., Physics, Stanford University; B.S., Physics, Harvard University
Dr. Nadya Mason is a woman of many talents. Examining the quantum behavior of nanotubes, long, thin cylinders of carbon, or how electrons behave in low-dimensional, correlated materials are only a few of them. Touted by Dr. Jeremiah D. Sullivan, the former head of the department of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an outstanding experimentalist of condensed matter, Mason is emerging as a leader in her field.
In her work with nanotubes, Mason has developed new fabrication techniques to control quantum properties of dots and wires. She discovered unusual correlated phases and developed ways of trying to control and understand these phases in her work with two-dimensional superconductors. For this sort of innovation, Mason was awarded one of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious CAREER Awards in 2006.
A wife, mother and master physicist, Mason dedicates innumerable hours to studying the critical matters of physics, both social and scientific. To her, the science of electrons is just as important as the availability of opportunity to study them. An opportunity, she insists, evades many underprivileged groups.
As a condensed matter experimentalist, Mason observes the particles inside materials that give them their specific properties or, as she candidly puts it, “I look at the physics of stuff. Think of the metal in a spoon, for instance. I wonder what about it makes it a good conductor of electricity or heat? What is it about the electrons in these materials that give them their special or unique properties?”
Mason’s fascination for math and science began at the age of nine in the form of puzzles and games and has remained with her ever since. During high school, her summers were spent in laboratories, captivated by scientific theories.
“I got a research opportunity working at a local biochemistry lab in Houston. It really helped me hone my skills in science. I really liked working with my hands, doing experiments and thinking about the way things interacted.”
An observer of interactions, Mason couldn’t help but notice the shortage of minorities who shared her physics fascination. Both as a Harvard undergraduate and a doctoral student, the lack of women and people of color in her field was often discouraging. She even questioned whether she could succeed in a field dominated by White males.
“Before you consciously realize it, you are looking for role models around you,” Mason says. “In college you look for people who look like you or act like you or share similar interests as you for affirmation that you are interested in a field where you will be supported and thrive, because others have come before you and thrived.”
Mason never really found a single mentor that guided her through the collegiate years, but was fortunate to have summer internships geared towards helping underrepresented minorities excel. Most notably was the summer Mason spent at Bell Laboratories.
“It was a group of young Hispanic and African-American scientists, and a lot of mentors around who really wanted us to succeed,” Mason recalls. “There was an expectation that we would do well. Although they were not continuous, having these punctuated, yet intense periods of support and mentorship made a difference.”
Prior to joining the physics faculty at UIUC in 2006, Mason was a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, a three-year program reserved for persons of exceptional ability, originality and resourcefulness. There she researched projects related to both carbon nanotubes and nanostructured superconductors.
Being one of three women physicists of color at a top 50 research institution, Mason is working diligently to ensure that her scientific endeavors are both interesting and relevant.
“As a professor it is up to you to make sure that the work you do will lead to new knowledge and applications,” says Mason. “The number of women of color in physics is so small. I’m very aware of the importance of keeping visible [and] maintaining a high enough profile so that other young women can reach out to me, and I can reach out to them.”
— By Michelle J. Nealy
Researching the Electorate
Title: Assistant Professor of Political Science and American Studies, University of Southern California
Education: Ph.D., Political Science, and M.A., Education and Administration and Policy Analysis, Stanford University; B.A., Political Science and Chicano Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
As a kid, Dr. Ricardo Ramírez would rise early in the morning during the summers to help toil the land. His parents, who were both farm workers in central California, worked long hours in an effort to provide a better life for their struggling family. In their native Mexico, neither parent made it past the sixth grade, but in America, they knew that the opportunities for obtaining a quality education were readily available to their six children.
“They pushed education on us from the very beginning,” Ramírez says.
Since 2003, Ramírez has been a professor and a rising star at the University of Southern California, where he has gained national recognition for his research on the voting and political behavior of individuals across racial and ethnic lines. He has specifically examined the voting patterns of naturalized citizens and has observed that they have a higher propensity to register and vote.
Ramírez has built an impressive portfolio of scholarship that includes numerous journal articles and a published book titled Transforming Politics, Transforming America: The Political and Civic Incorporations of Immigrants in the United States, which he co-edited with scholars Taeku Lee and S. Karthick Ramakrishnan. He is currently examining the effects of mobilization efforts on Latino voters and the role of gender and ethnicity on career paths in state legislatures since 1990. Since 2006, he has also been a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research at UCLA and spent a year as a visiting research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-partisan organization that conducts research on California’s economic, social and political issues.
In the midst of the current political debate about immigration, Ramírez has been examining the increase in hate crimes directed at Latinos, and he is currently trying to get contemporary data about African-American views towards immigrants.
“I always knew he would be successful,” says Dr. Luis R. Fraga, who directed Ramírez’s dissertation, “The Changing Landscape of California Politics: 1990-2000,” while he was a professor at Stanford.
The two first met when Ramírez was an undergraduate at UCLA. Fraga is now the associate vice provost for faculty advancement and a professor of political science at the University of Washington. “Ricardo is a magnificent example of what can happen if people invest in potential scholars. He is a full university citizen and is at the forefront of always asking really good questions and then answering those questions with excellent data.”
As an undergraduate, Ramírez originally contemplated a career as a public interest lawyer. At the time, his thinking was influenced by the death of his brother, who drowned in a swimming pool. Ramírez was dismayed by the actions of the lawyer who took the case. He didn’t believe that he fought hard enough for his family.
“I thought that I wanted to do public interest law and help those who don’t have access to the legal system,” he recalls.
But at UCLA, Ramírez met distinguished scholars like Dr. Fernando Torres-Gil, who later went on to serve as the first assistant secretary for aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration. Teaching, he thought, would be an ideal way to make an impact and to mentor a future generation of minority scholars.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have great mentors,” he says. “I happened to be at the right place at the right time and was mentored by big names. I now enjoy working with students and mentoring them.”
— By Jamal Watson
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com