Winners of 4th annual Rising Black Scientists Awards announced

Published: Thursday 15th February 2024

Cell Press, Cell Signaling Technology (CST), and the Elsevier Foundation are proud to announce the winners of the 4th annual Rising Black Scientists Awards: Jaye Wilson of Yale University, Kevin Brown Jr. of California State University San Marcos, Senegal Mabry of Cornell University, and Akorfa Dagadu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The winners and honorable mentions of the 4th annual Rising Black Scientists Awards. The winners (top row, from left to right) are Akorfa Dagadu, Kevin Christopher Brown Jr., Jaye Antoinette Wilson, and Senegal Mabry. The honorable mentions (bottom row, from left to right) are Tatjana Washington, Zacchaeus Wallace, Steve Eshiemogie, and Azana Cochran.

This year had the greatest number of submissions thus far, with the winners being selected from a pool of more than 350 applicants from across the life, health, physical, earth, environmental, and data sciences. Essays from the winners and honorees appear in the journals Cell and iScience on February 15, 2024. The winning essays are:

“Through their stories and accomplishments, this year’s winners of the Rising Black Scientists Awards are examples of excellence to us all,” says John Pham, editor-in-chief of Cell. “My colleagues and I at Cell Press are inspired by them, and we are proud to be sharing their stories.”

The awards were originally created in 2020 to break down barriers and create opportunities by providing visibility and funds to support talented Black scientists in the life or medical sciences on their career journey. Thanks to a partnership with the Elsevier Foundation, this is the second year the awards have been expanded to include the physical, earth and environmental, and data sciences. In addition to the publication of their essays in Cell, winners also receive $10,000 to support their research and a $500 travel grant. Four honorable mentions were also recognized with $500 each. Their essays are published in the interdisciplinary open access journal iScience.

“I’m so inspired by the depth and breadth of topics these essays cover and the personal stories behind them,” says Ylann Schemm, executive director, the Elsevier Foundation. “Giving much needed visibility to Black scientists is an integral part of the Elsevier Foundation’s mission to encourage a more inclusive research ecosystem. We consider it essential to celebrate excellence and ambition during these critical early phases of their journeys as scientists.”

Soaring toward more sustainable science

Jaye Wilson, one of the physical, earth and environmental, or data sciences winners of the Rising Black Scientists Awards, is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow and PhD student at the Yale School of the Environment. Her research aims to create improved material recycling systems to both increase yield for high-value products and help industries develop more sustainable business practices. In her essay “Resilient wings, tangible impact: My journey from chrysalis to change-maker in STEM,” she describes how her experiences with her family, community, and STEM have empowered her with wings “poised to soar into a promising yet challenging horizon.”

“The RBSA is a deeply personal achievement that represents a collective aim for a future where diversity in thought and background is not just recognized but celebrated as the bedrock of academic and societal advancement,” says Wilson. “For me, it is a beacon of encouragement to continue being a restorative force in my field, fostering creativity and innovative thinking.”

Innovating the future of plastics

The other recipient of the physical, earth and environmental, or data sciences award is Akorfa Dagadu. In her essay, “Bridging past with progress: My mission in the world of polymers,” she shares how the global plastics crisis felt like a rallying cry, leading her to develop Ishara, a mobile app designed to both encourage and reward recycling behaviors to benefit entire communities. Now an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she is taking her work a step further, reimagining how we both create and break down synthetic polymers to mitigate the costs of an increasingly plastic world.

“Winning this award is both an honor and a call to action, fueling my commitment to contribute to the scientific community and inspiring me to continue breaking barriers and paving new paths,” says Dagadu.

The social factors of Parkinson’s pathology

Senegal Alfred Mabry is a winner of the Rising Black Scientists Award for a scholar in the life and health sciences. A PhD candidate at Cornell University Department of Psychology, his research seeks to unpack how psychosocial risk factors such as anxiety and racial bias may explain comorbidity observed between Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular disease. Mabry’s essay “Enough with ‘The Shakes’: Fighting Parkinson’s as a Black researcher and a community organizer” details how conversations in his community inspired him to pursue Parkinson’s research, hoping to help bridge the gaps remaining in patient care for African Americans.

“The Lord, my family, my mentors, the Parkinson’s research, and the Parkinson’s patient community have watched over my way,” says Mabry. “The rising challenges of this age can only be met by scientists who pursue being in service of communities and who ardently raise them up. I celebrate all the applicants and all their efforts to democratize science.”

From surgical intervention to scientific discovery

Kevin Christopher Brown Jr. is the recipient of the undergraduate award for life or health sciences for his essay “From the operating table to global science: How a near-death experience sparked my passion for life.” In it, he shares how critical surgery to repair his heart drove his interest in medical research. Now an undergraduate at California State University, San Marcos, his studies focus on how we can use stem cells to better understand neurodegenerative disease, with a long-term goal to incorporate regenerative medicine into cardiac surgical practice.

“Oftentimes, a single encouraging pat on the back is all the fuel necessary to jumpstart a dream,” says Brown Jr. “Thank you, Cell, for not only recognizing my past achievements but also investing in my future. This scholarship single-handedly allowed me to concisely parse out my goals and gave me that pat on the back to go chase after them.”

Honorable mentions recognized with publication in iScience

In recognition that the remarkable talent of the award applicants is not limited to four winners, an additional four honorable mentions were also selected this year, whose essays appear in iScience. The selected honorees for the life or health sciences category are PhD candidate Tatjana Washington of the University of Chicago for her essay “Pecan pie and saving birds: My path to becoming an ecologist” and undergraduate Zacchaeus Wallace of the University of Southern Mississippi for his essay “Memories that last.” The selected honorees for the physical, data, or earth and environmental sciences are PhD candidate Steve Eshiemogie of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for his essay “From village to lab: An African scientist’s quest for a sustainable future” and undergraduate Azana Cochran of Michigan State University for her essay “When the introvert stands out.”

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The full press release is also available on the Cell Press website: “Winners of 4th annual Rising Black Scientists Awards announced