Dominion of New York

Social Justice

July 17, 2012

37 Blacks Awarded Prestigious Science Scholarships, Fellowships

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Written by: Kelly Virella

A chemistry student studies a reaction in a test tube. Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Lab Science Careers


here is a crevice of the American educational system that anti-affirmative action measures hasn’t touched. Each year for 17 years, the pharmaceutical giant Merck and the United Negro College Funds have given black undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows money to pursue their education or research in biological science or engineering. This year,  37 won the prestigious awards, each receiving scholarships or fellowships ranging from $25,000 to $92,000. A list of the winners is below.

Americans in general tend to shy away from careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A press release from the Merck and United Negro College Fund (UNCF) partnership says:

According to the most recent data, only 16 percent of U.S. undergraduates graduate with a [natural science or engineering] degree, compared to 24 percent of undergraduates in the European Union, 44 percent in China, and 37 percent in South Korea.

The same trend is reflected among students studying STEM as graduate students and postdoctoral scientists.  Thirty-three percent of all U.S. STEM doctoral students in U.S. universities, and 43 percent of the U.S.’s postdoctoral researchers in science, engineering, and health are foreign students.

African-Americans are also underrepresented in the sciences. We make up 13 percent of the US population, but in 2011, we made up only 7.3 percent of workers in life, physical and social science occupations and tend to hold lower-paying technician jobs. The UNCF/Merck partnership is designed to increase black participation in biological science and has awarded 627 scholarships and fellowships over the years.

An undergraduate classmate of mine participated in the program in a previous year and made this statement:

“I am excited to be a part of a program that has contributed so much to increasing the number of African-American scientists and engineers,” said Tshaka Cunningham, Ph.D., a biologist who received a Merck Fellowship to pursue new research directions in HIV biology at Rockefeller University.

“In addition to supporting my research, UMSI supported a research project for a Morehouse College undergraduate who I mentored and who now attends medical school at UCLA.  The scientists and industry professionals I have met through UMSI have become my own friends and mentors and have helped me grow in my career.”

These are the winners. Give a shout out to your school if it’s on the list.

h/t Black Innovation Competitiveness Initiative


Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Awards (up to $25,000 each)

  • Onyemaechi C. Anoruo, Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Dara Bobb-Semple,   State University of New York at Stony Brook (Stony Brook, NY)
  • Carmen L. Del Valle, Columbia University (New York, NY)
  • Piaget J. Francois, University of Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Kia R. Johnson, University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul (Saint Paul, MN)
  • Russell J. Ledet, Southern University and A & M College (Baton Rouge, LA)
  • David Marcelin, Fordham University (Bronx, NY)
  • Erika M. Moore, John Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
  • Evelyn Okeke, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York (Staten Island,NY)
  • Victoria Okuneye, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
  • Marisha M. Perkins, University of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands) 
  • Faith Simunyu, Denison University (Granville, OH)              
  • Anthony M. Todd, University of Alabama, Birmingham (Birmingham, AL)
  • Ashton K. Wheeler, University of Alabama, Birmingham (Birmingham, AL)
  • Jalissa L. Wynder, Southern University, Baton Rouge (Baton Rouge, LA)

Graduate Science Research Dissertation Fellowships (up to $53,500 each)

  • Sarah Ann R. Anderson, Mount Sinai School of Medicine (New York, NY) Undergraduate Institution:  Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Alicia T. Barr, Medical College of Wisconsin (Wauwatosa, WI) Undergraduate Institution:  Case Western Reserve University
  • Jamaal L. Benjamin, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas, TX) Undergraduate Institution:  Morehouse College
  • April M. Clayton, John Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) Undergraduate Institution:  Erskine College
  • Janice M. Dias, University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL) Undergraduate Institution:  University of Miami
  • Christina N. Garlington, University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center (Denver, CO) Undergraduate Institution:  University of Miami
  • Uzoma K. Iheagwara, University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) Undergraduate Institution:  University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Kateena L. Johnson, Morehouse School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA) Undergraduate Institution:  Agnes Scott College
  • Paul Kelley, California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA) Undergraduate Institution: The Catholic University of America
  • Folami Lamoke, Medical College of Georgia (Augusta, GA) Undergraduate Institution:  Brown University
  • Elizabeth M. Ransey, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) Undergraduate Institution:  Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Dionna W. Williams, Yeshiva University (New York, NY) Undergraduate Institution:  Hofstra University

Postdoctoral Science research Fellows (up to $92, 000 each)

  • Nnenna A Finn, Ph.D., Emory  University (Atlanta, GA) Undergraduate Institution:  University of Florida
  • Keneshia Haenssen, Ph.D., University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (Newark, NJ)           Undergraduate Institution:   Randolph-Macon Woman’s College
  • Dahlia Haynes, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) Undergraduate Institution: Claflin University
  • Rashade A.H. Haynes II, Ph.D., University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (Newark, NJ)   Undergraduate Institution: Rutgers University-New Brunswick
  • Curtis J. Henry, Ph.D., University of Colorado Denver (Aurora, CO ) Undergraduate Institution: Florida A& M University
  • Jessica Lopes Da Rosa-Spiegler, Ph.D., University of Georgia (Athens, GA) Undergraduate Institution:   Rutgers University
  • Arion Kennedy, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) Undergraduate Institution: Florida A& M University
  • Stephanie M. Malone, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University  (Pittsburgh, PA) Undergraduate Institution:   Princeton University
  • Troy A. Mceachron, Ph.D., St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital (Memphis, TN) Undergraduate Institution:   Arizona State University
  • Hosea M. Nelson, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA) Undergraduate Institution: University of California at Berkeley

About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


A student at Ocean Hill Collegiate Middle School. Photo by Jessica Campbell
The outdoor plaza at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of OlivierJD.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Renato Ganoza

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