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Congratulations to everyone who went from graduand to graduate this weekend. US Black Engineer (USBE) magazine sends our absolute best wishes to the Anthony “Tony” Watson family.

A former chair of USBE’s Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) winners’ alumni group, retired Navy Admiral Tony Watson, one of the “Centennial Seven” African American sailors, showed his fatherly pride as he celebrated his daughter with USBE Online on Saturday.

Erica Watson graduated with a Doctor of Health Science and clinical health and clinical nutrition concentrations. She walked in the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater to receive her diploma during the commencement at the University of Bridgeport. Her peer-reviewed publication is titled “Using Positive Psychology to Promote Cardiovascular Health in African-Americans.”

While a doctoral candidate at the University of Bridgeport (2018-2021), Dr. Watson served as a science teacher in Groton Public Schools. Since 2016, she has worked as a human biology professor at Eastern Connecticut State University. As part of the New England Science & Sailing Foundation Board, she is focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning and social-emotional wellness.

In 2015, Dr. Watson won the K-12 Promotion of STEM Education Teacher of the Year Award at the BEYA STEM Conference.

“BEYA is all about STEM,” said Watson, one of the trailblazing commanding officers of U.S. submarines in the 20th century. “Scientists and engineers always argue who came first, and the mathematicians claim they are the universal linguists without whom neither scientists, technologists, nor engineers could communicate.”

Below is the commentary Dr. Erica Watson shared with USBE Online on her experience as a Black woman leader in science (health and disease) and what she learned serving in a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

This weekend I was once again blessed. I was blessed to be with and near family; blessed to feel the presence of friends and colleagues; blessed to sit with classmates; blessed to walk across a stage. Now, I am not a center-stage person, mind you. It was an interesting journey getting from Gales Ferry, Connecticut, to center stage in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

When I was a girl, I was obsessed with the human body, in particular diseases associated with it. My book collection, however, included reads about rare disorders, animal habitats, and house blueprints. My brain thrived on and was filled with STEM from my early years. My truest love, however, was knowing more and more about the human body.

Later I raised my most precious treasures, Joaquin, and Sasha, to become admirable and loving young adults. My kids are today my greatest joys. Along the way, we, as a trio, attended my undergraduate classes together; the kids sat next to me with crayons and coloring books and a whole host of quiet-chew snacks. They were the best-behaved students in the classroom! However, I knew that I was just at the beginning stages of a unique journey during that organic chemistry and biology, and physics undergraduate courses.

During the years to come, I had several key mentors, all of whom encouraged me in different ways and certainly modeled effectiveness and professionalism in STEM. Dr. Koerting, professor and university leader, helped to inspire me since I was 8.

Dr. Pardo, a veterinary pathologist and dear friend told me to get out there and not stop, and she trusted me. One day during a Harvard Medical School dissertation defense, I approached Dr. Sherley, an M.D./PhD and stem cell company CEO and leader, to ask him if he would mentor me, and he said yes: what motivation he has been for me over the years.

Admiral Erica G. Schwartz, a medical doctor, and former deputy surgeon general listens to me and builds up my spirit by reinforcing my inherent strengths as a professional Black woman. Karol, Trinette, Dr. Bundy, Dr. Tops, and Commander Santos all stand around me in my mind, there as a tribal nation of backing. Countless friends and coworkers also mentor me in various ways, either by asking leading questions or, most importantly to me, asking for advice/support.

‘Serving in a COVID-19 vaccination clinic’

During this past year of the pandemic, I used my master’s degree in biology and emerging infectious disease and my EMT training in various settings, from school district committee reopening strategies to university discussions to the Medical Reserves Corps where I served in clinical observation for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

I learned that we as Black people suffer from disease, violence, low income, and disrespect, and we are murdered, all signs and symptoms of systemic and structural racism. We die more from COVID-19 than any other group. As part of a global family of human beings, I learned that chronic greed and inequity, and dismissiveness do nothing but destroy us from our energies to our cells to our tissues to our minds. Working through the final months, weeks, hours, and even seconds of this Doctor of Health Science in Clinical Health and Clinical Nutrition, I considered my impact on this world.

I looked at my children, listened to stories of pain, read about anti-inflammatory nutritional interventions, protested, spoke at protests, and continued to teach at the high school, adult education, and university levels.

I grew as a Black woman leader in STEM: science (health and disease), technology (many, many hours of online study reviews), engineering (health plan design), and math (p-values, confidence intervals, and infection rates). Today I landed on new ground, ready to help Black women and more in disease detection and health promotion, aspiring to become a physician (my always-goal since age 8).

My reliance on God, mentors, family, friends, and colleagues carried me through unimaginable pain, trials, and happiness to this very moment, and here I launch to help build, as my classmates named for me because of my consistent desire to serve the world, a “Save the World Clinic.” We work as a unit, we humans, and we succeed because of our openness to others and the world.

In 2016,  Dr. Erica Watson earned a master’s and a graduate certificate in emerging infectious diseases from the University of Saint Joseph. Three years later, Dr. Watson completed training in infectious diseases in primary care at the Harvard Medical School. For more than 30 years, she has served as a volunteer builder with Habitat for Humanity, focused on economic empowerment. She is also a health volunteer with the Connecticut Medical Reserve Corps.

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