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Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have long been incubators for extraordinary research and product development.

Think George Washington Carver, who showed ingenuity and creativity in finding countless uses for peanuts in his laboratory at Tuskegee University.

HBCUs are still doing groundbreaking research in hypoallergenic peanuts. But over the last 30 years, black colleges have received utility patents in energy, advanced manufacturing technology, nanotechnology,  alternative fuel technologies, and breast cancer treatment.

Since 2002, 58 patent applications have been filed by Florida A&M University. “By no means an exhaustive list of patent and research activities at historically black colleges and universities,” an IP report notes.

The contribution of people of all backgrounds is indisputable. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the diversity of researchers in innovation taking place at HBCUs.

At the annual BEYA Conference, the Hall of Innovation serves as the backdrop for the Evening with BEYA’s Leading Voices event, where the contributions of STEM Innovators selected by their respective HBCUs are honored.

This year’s speakers included Denee Thomas-Mwendwa, associate professor of psychology at Howard University, and Joanne B. Powell, associate professor, Department of Biological Sciences Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development at Clark Atlanta University. The topics ranged from stress to the role of biomedical researchers in combating cancer health disparities.

Dr. Victor McCrary, vice president for research and graduate programs at the University of the District of Columbia and a member of the National Science Board, presented the HBCU Innovator awards. Researchers recognized at the event included:

Dr. Dinadayalane Tandabany
Associate Professor
Clark Atlanta University

Joann B. Powell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Biological Sciences/
Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development
Clark Atlanta University

Dr. Lara Thompson
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of the District of Columbia

Mr. Ronnie Bailey
Associate Professor
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

Dr. Talitha Washington
Associate Professor / NSF Program Director
Howard University

In this NSF video “Women History Makers: Talitha Washington” Dr.  Washington shares how math didn’t come easy for her, and if not for other amazing women in her life, she might not have become the award-winning mathematician she is today.  Click here to view.

Dr. Viji Sitther

Associate Professor of Biology
Morgan State University

Dr. Yaunwei Jin
University of Maryland Eastern Shore

In 2018, ten HBCU researchers received Innovation Awards at US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine’s inaugural Leading Voices event at the 2018 BEYA STEM Conference.

“The HBCU Innovation Award validates my commitment to the discovery process as a measure of ‘staying relevant,'” Dr. Kevin Kornegay said. “Innovative ideas can grow existing fields or cause a market leader to become obsolete.”

Kornegay’s team at Morgan State University is using reverse engineering techniques to unveil hardware security gaps that may be present in an Internet of Things (IoT) device and develop countermeasures to prevent access of confidential information and ensure functional operation during a cyber attack.

Kornegay’s Internet of Things (IoT) research aims to make devices we have come to depend upon, as well as new technology, safer when it comes to transferring data over a network.

Bi-Dar (Peter) Wang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, is a pioneer in the field of cancer genomics and prostate cancer disparities. He and his colleagues from George Washington University and Duke University developed aberrant mRNA splice variants as novel diagnostic biomarkers and potential therapeutic targets. This invention was granted a US patent.

Award-winning food scientist Dr. Shengmin Sang has patented compounds comprising aspirin and ginger derivatives that have shown promise for preventing cancer. He studies bioactive compounds in tea, apples, rosemary, and other foods.

“It was my great honor to be the recipient of the Innovation Award,” Dr. Sang told USBE Online. “I was also invited to give a talk about my inventions of novel aspirin derivatives for colorectal cancer prevention at ‘An Evening with BEYA Leading Voices.

“What impressed me the most is the hotel bellman introduced himself to me the next morning. He asked me when my novel aspirin derivatives will be available on the market. He had started to develop gastrointestinal complications (a typical side effect from aspirin intake) even after taking a baby aspirin (85 mg dose) for 3-4 years. At that moment, I started to realize the importance of my inventions and to feel the pressure to move my discoveries forward to benefit millions of patients who are regularly taking aspirin,” Sang said.

Dr. Abdollah Homaifar is director of the Autonomous Control and Information Technology Center, also at North Carolina A&T. The ACIT Center enhances undergraduate and graduate student involvement in research for the benefit of the national economy. The areas of concentration for the ACIT Center include Artificial Intelligence, Renewable Energy Systems, Genetic Algorithms, Machine Learning, and Robotics.

Dr. Grant Warner directs the Howard University – Hampton University I-Corps, which commercializes research from HBCUs in the District-Maryland-Virginia area. He has trained and advised more than 200 faculty and student teams in venture formation.

“It was an honor to be recognized with the HBCU Innovation Award at BEYA. The event provided the opportunity to network with other innovators and discuss how we can expand the innovation ecosystem,” said Dr. Warner. “That ecosystem involves government, industry, academia, and creative talent. HBCUs are uniquely positioned to bring together all those stakeholders.”

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