From improving vaccine technology to fostering self-advocacy and community, celebrating Black History Month
February is Black History Month, which began in 1926 as Negro History Week. Today, Black History Month is observed in the United States and other countries as a celebration of the history, achievements and contributions of people with African and Caribbean heritage to every segment of our society, including science and education.
Princeton Engineering celebrates the outstanding contributions of our Black students, faculty, researchers and alumni.
For information on Princeton University resources and events for Black History Month, please visit https://www.princeton.edu/news/2023/02/10/ruha-benjamins-selections-black-history-month-plus-university-events-learning-and.
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#PrincetonEngineers: “When I came here from Ghana, I was in first or second grade in Queens, NY. In math class every week we had a competition, and I was so good that everybody wanted to be on my team. So that was positive reinforcement that I should try to get really good at this subject.
Fast forward a little bit, and I was deciding what to do for my bachelor’s degree at @udelaware. The only degrees I knew were accounting and finance because my high school had specialized in that. But then I Googled what professions can you do with math, and one that came up was actuary — modeling risk for insurance. I chose statistics since that was the most adjacent. I really enjoyed the program, and I’m still close to two of my former professors.
One of them told me about an opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank (@richmondfed) related to statistics, so I did that for two years. I did policy research and attended the meetings prior to the Federal Open Market Committee meetings — the ones with the press conference where they announce whether interest rates are going up. I learned a lot about what it takes to make data sets and tell narratives and look at the bigger picture. People there breathed, drank and ate economics; it was inspiring to see how passionate they were. That’s also where I learned about Ph.D. programs and decided to apply.
For my dissertation research I’m looking into energy systems. There are models from the ’90s that describe optimal market strategies for energy producers that convert some fuel source like coal or natural gas to electricity. I’m working on how to adapt these to solar and wind energy, creating policy tools to make sure renewable firms are using the best guess for how much they can produce, so grid operators can optimize grid reliability.
This project actually is expanding my research interests. When I came to @Princeton I thought I was going to do econometrics or financial statistics. Now I’m thinking more about game theory and oligopolistic competition, and how antitrust laws in different industries operate.” – Felix Ackon, Ph.D. candidate, operations research and financial engineering #blackhistorymonth
#PrincetonEngineers: “A lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut inspired me to study aerospace engineering. I also wanted to attend a historic university – a desire sparked when my family took my brother to college years earlier. History met my desire when I found that Princeton had an aerospace program – I applied and was accepted.
My desire to become a researcher came from my time in the Princeton #mellonfellows program. I worked in the lab of Professor Naomi Leonard, focused on coordinated motion for underwater platforms. Seeing mechanical engineers, computer scientists and physicists come together was incredibly impactful; I began to realize that multiple perspectives are needed for a successful engineering project. After that experience, I knew that taking ideas from conception to reality was what I wanted to do.
The potential to be part of cutting-edge research eventually led me to the Applied Physics Laboratory @johnshopkinsapl. APL is an independent, nonprofit organization that conducts essential research, development and systems engineering in support of national security needs. I truly enjoy APL’s Internal Research and Development (IRAD) process because it gives staff the opportunity to pursue innovative ideas that advance the state-of-the-art and impact daily life.
Speaking of only my own path and not on behalf of anybody else, I can honestly say that I am not who many people imagine when they think of a scientist or engineer. I’ve found there are many preconceived notions (both from people who do not consider themselves to be minorities and from some who do) about what someone who fits my description knows and is capable of. This is no big deal when it’s coming from a colleague, but the implications can be much more severe when it’s someone who controls your livelihood or your ability to reach your full potential. Innovative, technical STEM work is being used to build the foundation of tomorrow, and I feel it’s important that all people are represented fully, fairly, and inclusively in that realm, across the entire development chain.” – Rochelle Mellish ’08, Sr. Professional Staff I at JHUAPL #princetonalumni #womeninstem #blackhistorymonth
#PrincetonEngineers: “I like being part of different communities: the chemical and biological engineering (CBE) community, the varsity track & field team, being a peer academic adviser at @rockycollegeprinceton and a senator with the National Society of Black Engineers @nsbe_pu, whose mission is to reach out to Black engineers on campus through professional and social events. When you start to engage with people, you see how we may come from very different backgrounds, but when we come here we all have the same problems, and we can all provide each other with solutions.
When first got to Princeton, I got through the challenges of my engineering courses by collaborating with friends, whether it was discussing topics that we learned or reviewing p-sets. I think students need to know that there’s going to be some very tough semesters at Princeton, but if you focus on addressing your weaknesses you can make things easier. I remember as a freshman learning that you need to have a growth mindset: Don’t have a fixed mindset, where you think that you can’t become more intelligent than you already are and you’re stuck in your position.
I just found out I got a Labouisse Fellowship from Princeton that will support me for a year of research in Australia to continue my senior thesis project. We’re trying to develop a new method to make the particles used in COVID vaccines. The current vaccines have to be transported at -80 degrees Celsius, and that makes access extremely difficult in low-income countries. We’re making empty particles that can be shipped separately from the mRNA and stored at -20 degrees, which is a huge improvement.
In July I’ll be going to @sydney_uni, where I’ll use advanced techniques to understand what the insides of the particles look like. If we can show that the particles we make through our process are similar to those in the original vaccines, we can prove that our method is viable and it will hopefully be used for the next mRNA vaccines.” – David Amelemah ’23, CBE, in support of #blackhistorymonth
#PrincetonEngineers: “I used to find it hard to think of myself as part of a larger collective of engineers who look like me. That all changed after the #BlackLivesMatter protest that a few friends and I organized outside FitzRandolph Gate, called ‘Kneeling for Justice.’ Coming together with a group of Black students to defend our rights gave me a deep appreciation for the historic legacy of the Black Princeton community that time and time again advocates for itself and for generations to come. The ones that came before paved the way for me to be here. An engineer. At @Princeton. After the protest, my good friend and former NSBE (Princeton’s National Society of Black Engineers chapter) president Raph Njoku ‘22 encouraged me to continue my involvement in Black spaces. Today, I am the VP of @nsbe_pu and I am more excited than ever to continue self-advocacy and community building in engineering, which has historically excluded students like me.
NSBE president Yenet Tafesse ’24, the NSBE board, and I have been working closely with @eprinceton this year. Our goal is to establish a strong foundation for the next generations of Black Princeton engineers to flourish. We want to leave behind programs that provide opportunities and a sense of community in Princeton and beyond. So much has been done already! We’ve hosted a variety of events including study breaks, a Black alumni panel, and a LinkedIn and personal branding boot camp with @princetoncareer, with much more on the horizon. We’re especially excited about our collaboration with the COS and MAE departments to provide funding for 30 students to attend the @NSBE national convention in Kansas City this March. Princeton, like any other institution, is always looking for ways to do better for minority groups, and the great thing about the time we’re in is that it’s not only a time for Princeton to listen, but it is also an opportunity for students to make our voices heard and create the communities we want to see represented.” – Mutemwa Masheke ’23, computer science @mutemwq #blackhistorymonth