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Dr. Stephanie Luster-Teasley is interim dean of the College of Engineering  (COE) at North Carolina A&T State University. During her tenure,  a bioengineering professor has been making waves in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

The principal investigator and research team are developing a functional mini-brain model. They use the platform to demonstrate how Alzheimer’s drugs can reach their targets and crumble the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques. This inhibits neurons from communicating with each other causing inflammation, which can lead to serious complications.  If the team’s strategy is effective, the research will unlock more personalized medicine options to treat Alzheimer’s disease and accelerate drug discovery and screening. A grant from the National Institutes of Health supports this research.

During the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Engineering Deans Recognition Event at the just-concluded BEYA STEM Conference, Dr. Luster-Teasley introduced two winners of the Most Promising Scientist of the Year award.

Jamesa Stokes, Ph.D., is an aerospace materials research engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She studies the behavior of materials and structures in extreme environments for both space and aeronautics applications. She has mentored students of all ages through various science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach programs throughout her career. Dr. Stokes still mentors undergraduate and graduate students on research projects critical to NASA’s goal of fostering the next generation of scientists and engineers. She promotes NASA’s research and technology at air shows, conferences, and meetings worldwide.

“When I started college as a studio art major, I had no idea I would take the path to get to where I am now,” Dr. Stokes said. “But because of my experiences, I have learned that my creativity from being an artist and the ability to try the unexpected has enabled me to succeed in engineering. I feel so honored that not only am I being acknowledged for my achievements here at this conference, but I can continue to use all of my gifts for the benefit of all.”

Lindsey McMillon-Brown, Ph.D., also works for NASA. She designs photovoltaics that can be manufactured on the moon and in space. She is a champion for diversity and inclusion efforts who founded and organized a panel discussion at the International Electrical Engineering Conference for Photovoltaics. In addition, she recently published an article entitled “Implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts at Conferences” in the Nature Energy journal.

“I am a product of the collaborative effort of many people, to whom I am deeply grateful,” Dr. McMillon-Brown said. “First, my parents instilled within me a deep curiosity and supported me in every challenge I faced. Second, I’m thankful to the many educators I’ve had who have equipped me with technical and life skills. And to my husband, Charles Brown, who has supported me since we met in grad school. Lastly, I’m thankful to my mentors who guide me toward success. Finally, I hope my presence here is encouraging to those younger than me. You can achieve your wildest dreams. Strive for them relentlessly.

As a data scientist at MITRE Corporation, Houda Kerkoub supports the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She is also a licensed airline pilot and former flight instructor. Her research addresses items from the Boeing 737 Max accidents review. Ms. Kerkoub is a principal investigator for independent study through the MITRE Innovation Program and has led the technical efforts for the FAA to prioritize safety analyses across aviation communities. This enables complex decision-making across the aviation safety information analysis and sharing program, which anyone who flies wants. She has received a NASA award, is active in the Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots, also known as The 99s, and was a member of Women in Tech Africa, the largest group on the continent with membership across 30 countries globally.

“Looking back at my life, one theme is persistence,” Ms. Kerkoub said during her acceptance at the recognition event hosted by the Council of Engineering Deans at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. When I was nine and my family moved to countries from Algeria to Morocco because of political unrest, I didn’t know what my future held. In the meantime, I played games, did the things I enjoyed, and was good at, like math. Even with everything that life threw at me, I persisted. I have spent my life adjusting to new situations like 9/11, indefinitely stopping my pilot career, and being declined a job because I’m a woman. But when you’re blessed with a hunger for knowledge, change doesn’t matter because that hunger is your constant. And that persistence will take you where you need to go.”

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