campus news

UB’s VITAL scholars return to campus

2023 Vital Scholars.

UB this week welcomed 35 scholars as part of its Visiting Future Faculty Program (VITAL). Photo: Douglas Levere


Published October 18, 2023

Jacqueline Hollins.
“A primary goal of VITAL is to provide the scholars with thoughtful and constructive feedback on their research and connection to a campus community that values and affirms their identities and scholarship. ”
Jacqueline Hollins, interim vice provost for inclusive excellence

UB’s Visiting Future Faculty program has returned for an encore as 35 outstanding doctoral students are on campus this week as part of an initiative to increase the number of faculty at UB from traditionally underrepresented populations in North America.

The Visiting Future Faculty, or VITAL, program, a three-year pilot program developed by the Office of the Provost and the Office of Inclusive Excellence, has brought these scholars to UB to expose them to research and teaching opportunities at the university, and to support them as the next generation of faculty.

All 35 scholars — ABD (all but dissertation) candidates in doctoral programs in any field who intend to pursue academic careers — are involved in research activities across a broad range of disciplines ranging from the humanities to STEM fields. They are presenting talks on their research and work to UB students and faculty, as well as meeting with UB administrators, taking tours of Buffalo and attending receptions at local restaurants.

“VITAL is a reflection of UB’s commitment to increasing the diversity of faculty members,” says Jacqueline Hollins, interim vice provost for inclusive excellence. “A primary goal of VITAL is to provide the scholars with thoughtful and constructive feedback on their research and connection to a campus community that values and affirms their identities and scholarship.”

The VITAL program also introduces the scholars to the robust research and teaching opportunitiesavailable at UB, as well as Buffalo’s rich history and culture, according to Hollins.

“Our hope is to cultivate positive and sustainable relationships among VITAL scholars, UB faculty and UB students, which in turn will position the scholars to serve as UB ambassadors,” she says.

Feedback from previous VITAL scholars has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Hollins notes.

“I think I can speak for all the VITAL scholars when I say this week was probably one of the top events we will have during our doctoral careers,” one former scholar said. “I am so thankful that I was able to participate.”

Several VITAL scholars in previous cohorts of the program have been hired at UB:

  • Isabel Anadon, assistant professor, Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences (spring 2022 cohort).
  • Gladys Camacho Rios, visiting assistant professor, Department of Linguistics, College of Arts and Sciences (spring 2022 cohort).
  • Daniela Goya Tocchetto, assistant professor, Department of Organization and Human Resources, School of Management (fall 2022 cohort).
  • Brittany Jones, assistant professor, Department of Learning and Instruction, Graduate School of Education (fall 2022 cohort).
  • Waylon Wilson, digital archivist, Department of Indigenous Studies, College of Arts and Sciences (fall 2022 cohort).

This year’s VITAL scholars:

Hamdi Adam.

Hamdi Adam (he/him), public health, University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Hamdi Adam is a PhD student in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. His work focuses on the relationship between the human microbiome and cardiometabolic disease in population-based studies. Hamdi is currently a T32 predoctoral fellow in cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and is a member of the American Heart Association and the Society for Epidemiologic Research. Prior to his doctoral studies, he received a BS in biology from Augsburg University and an MPH from the University of Minnesota. Adam aims to better understand the role of the microbiome in cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk, especially among populations that have been historically underrepresented in epidemiologic studies.

Julissa Adames-Torres.

Julissa Adames-Torres (she/her), social work, Adelphi University School of Social Work

Julissa Adames-Torres is a New York State and New Jersey licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in private practice and a doctoral candidate at Adelphi University. Julissa is adjunct faculty in the schools of Social Work at Adelphi University, Lehman College and Syracuse University. Adames-Torres teaches courses in human behavior, diversity, oppression, social work practice with individuals and families, group therapy, social work in health care and social work research. She has vast experience in clinical areas of depression, anxiety, trauma, immigration acculturation and other life transitions. She has worked as a clinical supervisor and administrator in health care and community-based settings. These experiences contribute to Adames-Torres’ research in cultural humility and predicting factors of mental health utilization among marginalized communities, and program evaluation initiatives that include photovoice intervention and permanent exhibition of research findings. Currently, she is a research assistant on a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center Improvement and Advancement Federal Grant (CCBHC-IA).

AraOluwa Adaramola.

AraOluwa Adaramola (she/her), chemical engineering/engineering education, Purdue University

AraOluwa Adaramola is a graduate student in the chemical engineering PhD program at Purdue University. She is co-advised by Bryan Boudouris and Allison Godwin. She graduated from Purdue University in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. Her research interests are in chemical engineering, developing interdisciplinary solutions to engineering processes, and engineering education, supporting undergraduate students’ academic and professional development. In the future, she aspires to become a faculty member, pursuing her research interests and teaching undergraduate chemical engineering classes. Adaramola has been nominated for several teaching awards. She is a member of the ASEE (American Society of Engineering Educators) and AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers), and actively participates in local events and national conferences.

Olutosin Adesogan.

Olutosin (Tosin) Adesogan (she/her), clinical psychology, University of Georgia

Tosin Adesogan is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Georgia under the supervision of Justin Lavner. Prior to attending UGA, Adesogan received her BS in psychology with a minor in health disparities in society from the University of Florida. Her research is focused on understanding experiences of multisystemic risk and resilience, and their impact on the health and well-being of Black individuals, families and communities. Her recent work, partially funded by a Diversity Supplement from the National Institute on Aging, has examined models of stress and resilience accumulation across ecological levels and subsequent effects on the health of Black Americans living in the rural South. Adesogan’s professional goal is to work in an academic setting conducting health equity research that works to mitigate health disparities among Black populations.

Sylvia Ayieko.

Sylvia Ayieko, health promotion and behavioral sciences, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Sylvia Ayieko is a PhD candidate in health promotion and behavioral sciences at the University of Texas, Health Science Center at Houston. She is part of the We Can Do More project that seeks to expand contraception access in Harris County, Texas. Ayieko’s research interests are in maternal-child health and adolescent reproductive health. Her goal is to better understand various social and non-medical determinants that impact maternal health outcomes among Black women. Ayieko received her MPH/MSW from the University of Georgia.

Christian Brickhouse.

Christian Brickhouse (he/him), interactional sociophonetics, Stanford University

Christian Brickhouse is a PhD candidate in linguistics at Stanford University with a specialty in sociolinguistics. Motivated by an interest in language variation and change, Brickhouse has studied variation in the vowels of California English and reconstructed changes in a family of languages in Papua New Guinea. His ongoing dissertation work investigates how speakers vary their intonation, pronunciation and choice of words as a way to augment their investment in the truth of a statement while arguing. Looking at U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments, his dissertation will explore how subtle variation in speech contributes to the construction of knowledge and our relationship to that knowledge. He looks forward to finding a faculty job where he can continue this research and teach students about the wonderful diversity of human language and culture.

Julia Brisbane.

Julia Brisbane (she/her), engineering education, Virginia Tech College of Engineering

Julia Brisbane (she/her) is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the engineering education department at Virginia Tech. She received her MS in biomedical engineering from Virginia Tech and her BS in bioengineering from Clemson University. Her research interests lie in undergraduate research experiences, graduate education and biomedical research mistrust. At Virginia Tech, she received the Torgersen Graduate Student Research Excellence Award and is a New Horizons Graduate Scholar. Additionally, Brisbane has served in equity-related roles within Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, including serving as a graduate ambassador for the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity, leading reading and writing groups for first-year graduate students from marginalized backgrounds, and serving as an academic coach in a summer bridge program for first-year students entering engineering. She is pursuing postdoctoral and faculty positions to start in the 2024-25 academic year.

Jose Capa Salinas.

Jose Capa Salinas (he/him), structural engineering, Purdue University

Jose Capa Salinas is a PhD student in the civil engineering department at Purdue University. Salinas’ research project, a validation center for drone bridge inspection, demonstrates his ability to find innovative solutions to complex engineering problems. His research interests include drone bridge inspection, routine and fracture critical inspections, and earthquake engineering. He is a member of the TRB Standing Committee on Seismic Design and Performance of Bridges (AKB50), a voting member of the Dead and Live Load Subcommittee, and an associate member of the Main, Wind Load, and Seismic Subcommittees for ASCE/SEI 7-28. In 2023, he was recognized as a Young Leader to Follow by ITE, in addition to receiving honorable mention in Purdue’s Most Outstanding Interdisciplinary Project Award. Salinas wants to continue building upon opportunities to connect with other professionals and develop long-lasting relationships for future collaborations while pursuing a faculty position in a research-focused institution.

Shakti Castro.

Shakti Castro (she/her), history, Columbia University

Shakti Castro is a PhD candidate in the history department at Columbia University. Her dissertation project excavates the Puerto Rican history of syringe exchange programs and AIDS activism in New York City and the Puerto Rican archipelago. Exploring health and drug policy and public health and criminal surveillance, Castro situates harm reduction as a crucial part of the broader history of Puerto Rican antiracist and anticolonial protest, and political and social organizing. She is a member of the Puerto Rican Studies Association and the National Council on Public History, serving as student representative and part of the inclusion committee. She has been awarded fellowships from the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum Studies program, Columbia University’s Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusion, and the Lehman Center for American History at Columbia University. After graduation, Castro plans to use her education and work experience to teach undergraduates difficult history and help shape more humane drug policy.

Evelyn Coker.

Evelyn Coker (she/her), social welfare, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Evelyn Coker is a PhD student in the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Coker earned a BA in sociology, a MSW, and a MBA. Her 20-year career includes extensive experience providing direct services and administering mental health, juvenile justice and social services programs. Coker’s research interests include Black girls in the juvenile legal system, Black girlhood, the social-emotional health of Black adolescent girls, culturally relevant and gender-responsive programs for system-involved Black girls, and implementation science. She owns Morning Joy LLC, which provides program development and evaluation consulting services, and founded a nonprofit serving Black court-involved girls and their families. Coker has also authored an interactive journal called “Get L.I.T.: A Teen Girl’s Journal to Learning Intentional Tools for Positive Personal Development” to teach teen girls how to practice mindful self-regulation and journal with intention.

Adelis Cruz.

Adelis Cruz (she/her), behavioral and cellular neuroscience, Texas A&M University

Adelis Cruz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, where she is pursuing a psychology degree with an emphasis in behavioral and cellular neuroscience. She received a BS in biological sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso with support from the National Institutes of Health BUILDing SCHOLARS research program. As an undergraduate, Cruz worked under the mentorship of Edward Castañeda investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of behavioral sensitization to amphetamine using a rodent model. As a graduate student, she works under the mentorship of Rachel Smith investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of compulsive drug-seeking using a rodent model of drug self-administration. She was awarded an NIH D-SPAN fellowship (F99/K00) to support her current and future postdoctoral work investigating the neural mechanisms that control compulsive drug-seeking. Her long-term goal is to become an independent neuroscientist studying dysfunctional neural mechanisms associated with drug addiction.

Hector Diaz.

Hector Diaz (he/him/el), higher education administration, University of South Carolina

Hector Diaz is a PhD candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy program at the University of South Carolina. His research interests are colorism in the LatinX community, AfroLatinX college students and STEM education for LatinX undergraduates. Diaz hopes to become a faculty member at a research university where contributions to addressing educational inequities can be made, as researching college access and career development of LatinX undergraduates can aid in addressing inequities faced by the LatinX college-going population.

Khrysta Evans.

Khrysta Evans (she/her), education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Khrysta A. Evans is a PhD candidate in educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Evans uses a Black geographic lens to explore the relationship between Black girls’ geographies and the organizational routines of their schools, understand the role of peer groups in Black girls’ development of knowledge about the spaces that they create and occupy in schools, and attend to the influence of ethnicity in Black girls’ racialized and gendered socialization within schools. Her work has been funded by the Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World initiative; the American Educational Research Association’s minority dissertation travel award; and the departments of Educational Policy Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies at Wisconsin-Madison. After finishing her doctorate, Evans will pursue a tenure-track professorship in education, women’s studies and/or Black studies to train and learn with future generations of students who center Black girls’ humanity in their research and practice.

Any Fallas.

Amy Fallas (she/her), education, UC Santa Barbara

Amy Fallas received her MA in history from Yale University and is currently a PhD candidate in history at UC Santa Barbara. Her research examines historical memory, sectarianism and spiritual geographies in the modern Middle East, as well as transnationally between El Salvador and Palestine during the 20th century. She was a 2021-22 research fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and is currently the Coptic studies fellow at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center for 2022-23, as well as a doctoral scholar-in-residence at the Center for Economic, Legal and Social Studies and Documentation (CEDEJ) in Cairo. She is an assistant editor of the Arab Studies Journal, and her academic writing appears in peer-reviewed journals including History Compass and the Journal for Religion, State and Society, among others. She is interested in developing her scholarship and academic mentorship in higher education, especially at public institutions.

Jessica Fremland.

Jessica Fremland (she/her), gender studies, UCLA

Jessica Fremland (Wahpetuwan Dakota; she/her) obtained a BA in American Indian studies, sociology and global studies from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and an MSc in sociology from the London School of Economics. She is currently a fifth-year PhD candidate in the gender studies department at UCLA. Fremland uses mixed archival and ethnographic methods to examine the ways Dakota women call attention to the violence of the settler state and create anticolonial geographies through aesthetic expressions of relationality, performance, arts-based resistance and sensorial insurgence. In particular, she is interested in dance, sound, crafting, letter writing and everyday expressions of joy as radical and relational methods of dissent. Fremland draws especially on the fields of Black and Indigenous feminisms to not only document and map these moments of refusal in her academic work, but to imagine alternative possibilities in her own writing and performances of spoken-word poetry.

Rubén González.

Rubén González, race, inequality, and language in education, Stanford University

Rubén González is a PhD candidate in race, inequality and language in education at Stanford University, where he also earned a master’s degree in sociology. His research explores how students and teachers of color develop, sustain and operationalize a critical sociopolitical disposition in classroom, school and larger community settings. Prior to pursuing his graduate studies, González taught high school English and English language development. He completed his bachelor’s degree in English at Sacramento State University after transferring from Hartnell College. His scholarship has been supported by California State University chancellor’s doctoral incentive program fellowship, the Stanford graduate public service fellowship, the graduate student fellowship and the Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship. At the statewide level, González serves on the Education Trust–West’s (ETW) Educator Advisory Council (EAC). In local community settings, González has organized with the Association of Raza Educators (ARE) Sacramento and Ethnic Studies Now (ESN) Sacramento.

Quintin Gorman Jr.

Quintin Gorman Jr. (he/him), sociology, Rice University

Quintin Gorman Jr. is a sociology doctoral candidate and a graduate research assistant in the Racism and Racial Experiences (RARE) Workgroup at Rice University. His research interests include the intersection of racial attitudes, racial identity and second-class citizenship. His dissertation project uses multi-item scales he developed to examine the contemporary meaning, prevalence and significance of Du Boisian double consciousness among Black adults. He is a 2023-24 American Sociological Association Minority Fellowship Program (ASA MFP) fellow. He plans to pursue a tenure-track position in a ranked sociology department in 2024.

Paigean Jones.

Paigean Jones, social work, Howard University

Paigean Jones received her BA in sociology from West Chester University and her MSW from Georgia State University. She is a licensed clinical social worker, registered yoga instructor and certified clinical trauma professional. She has also completed specialized training towards Perinatal Mental Health Certification (PMH-C). Her research interests center on mindfulness, maternal health disparities, gendered racism, Black women’s mental health and health inequity. Jones is a reviewer for the National Association of Social Work and was a member of the inaugural fellowship cohort for the Interdisciplinary Minority Fellowship Program hosted by the American Psychological Association. As a fellow, she implemented programming to improve the mental health outcomes of adolescent girls living in underserved communities in Philadelphia. Jones currently works as a psychotherapist, adjunct instructor and research consultant. She is passionate about increasing access to culturally responsive modalities of care through research and policy changes.

Katherine Lebioda.

Katherine (Katy) Lebioda (she/her), higher education, University of Michigan Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education

Katherine (Katy) Lebioda (she/her) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, where her research focuses on the nexus between postsecondary structures and individuals, the importance of relationships and community for societal transformation, marginalized people’s strategies of resistance and survivance, and how we can dream and enact a more humanizing postsecondary education. Her dissertation is a participatory action research study that uses digital storytelling to facilitate a conversation with racially minoritized students about their experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion on campus. She previously worked as a research and policy analyst for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and also has experience working in both graduate and undergraduate admissions at George Washington University and the University of Michigan, respectively. She intends to pursue a tenure-track faculty position where she can continue developing her research agenda and pedagogical praxis.

Terrance Lewis.

Terrance Lewis (he/him), social science education, Auburn University

Terrance Lewis is a Presidential Research Fellow at Auburn University and is completing a PhD in social science education. Before enrolling at Auburn, he taught U.S. government, geography and Georgia studies for four years at the high school and middle school levels in Columbus, Ga., where he also served as student council sponsor, robotics coach and wrestling coach. Terrance studies race and Black education, with research interests in the pedagogical practices of Black men teachers and teacher-coaches, teaching with documentary film, and Black history education. His future plans include securing a tenure-track faculty position where he can continue to engage in work aligned with his research interests. A firm believer that a life spent serving others is a life well lived, Lewis enjoys mentoring and molding those who follow in his footsteps.

Charlotte Logan.

Charlotte Logan, linguistics, Cornell University

Charlotte Logan is Kanien’kehá:ka of Akwesasne (Mohawk of Akwesasne) and a PhD student in the Department of Linguistics at Cornell University. Her work focuses on the Hodinoñsyoñnih Language Documentation and Conservation Initiative, which aims at sitting with Hodinoñsyoñnih elders to ensure the passage of story and language to the next generation of Confederacy speakers. Logan began her language revitalization work as a learner and teacher of Onoñdaʔgegaʔ with the Onondaga Nation School and adult immersion program and continued on to Cornell, where she supports the Gayogohonǫ7 (Cayuga) language course within the Linguistics and American Indian and Indigenous Studies departments. The primary goal of her work is to produce data and resources that directly support language-revitalization efforts within Hodinoñsyoñnih communities to support the continued sovereignty and great peace of the Hodinoñsyoñnih Six Nations Confederacy.

Ruth Lopez Fajardo.

Ruth Lopez Fajardo (she/her), financial mathematics, Florida State University

Ruth Lopez Fajardo is a doctoral student with concentration in financial mathematics in the mathematics department at Florida State University. Prior to matriculating at FSU, she earned a BS in mathematics from the National Autonomous University of Honduras and an MS in pure mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. Within the math department at FSU she is part of Feng Bao’s research group focused on analysis and numerical solutions for stochastic PDEs, data assimilation and stochastic inference, stochastic optimal control, uncertainty quantification and mathematical foundations for machine learning. Currently her research focuses on data-assimilation methods for parameter estimation in state-space models and possible applications on pressure distribution in a porous medium.

Robson Martins de Araujo Junior.

Robson Martins de Araujo Junior (he/him/ele), teaching, learning, and technology, Lehigh University

Robson Martins de Araujo Junior is a Brazilian PhD candidate in teaching, learning and technology at Lehigh University. Junior is also a licentiate BA in English language and literature with a distance education graduate degree. Junior’s research interests focus on fostering agentic strategies and using gameful and immersive technologies for lifelong learning. He develops virtual environments to improve one’s cognitive, affective and psychomotor outcomes and engagement, from formal to informal learning settings. Since 2019, Junior has been an active member of the international Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN). In 2022, he received iLRN’s Innovation in Higher Education Award and a Best Academic Reviewer nomination. At Lehigh, Junior received the 2022 Graduate Life Leadership Award and the 2023 Graduate Research Competition People’s Choice award. Junior plans to continue in academia and write a book on the semiotics of quotidian life and the mechanisms of RPG video games.

Arturia Melson-Silimon.

Arturia Melson-Silimon (she/her), industrial-organizational psychology, University of Georgia

Arturia Melson-Silimon is a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia studying industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology. She is primarily interested in researching the experienced discrimination and prejudice of employees with marginalized or stigmatized identities, especially among people of color. In recognition of this research agenda, Melson-Silimon was awarded a 2020-23 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Additionally, she has published numerous research journal articles and book chapters on the future of diversity given rapid changes in the digital workplace practices, experiences of LGBTQ employees, neurodivergent employees, employees with personality disorders and implications of racial stereotyping for Black individuals. Melson-Silimon was also named a 2021-22 Racial Equity and Inclusion Research Scholar at NORC at the University of Chicago as part of their inaugural class.

Efrain Rodriguez Ocasio.

Efrain Rodriguez Ocasio (he/him), chemical engineering, Iowa State University

A native of Puerto Rico, Efrain Rodriguez Ocasio graduated from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez with a BS in industrial biotechnology and a project management minor. During his undergraduate studies, his demonstrated commitment to accessible higher education led to a two-year tenure as a member of the Governing Board of the University of Puerto Rico, which oversees 11 campuses. He is currently a chemical engineering PhD candidate at Iowa State University, where he is developing microbial platforms for plastic waste upcycling. Ocasio is a member of AIChE, IMES, SACNAS, and SIMB. At SIMB, he serves on the Membership Committee, the Science Policy Working Group, and the Online Task Force. Ocasio won the NASA ISGC Fellowship and presented his work at various conferences, winning awards at the SIMB and AIChE annual meetings and the iBio2 Symposium. In June, he presented at the International Metabolic Engineering Conference in Singapore.

Blessing Okafor.

Blessing Okafor (she/her), organizational communication, University of Missouri, Columbia

Blessing Ekene Okafor is a fourth-year PhD student at the University of Missouri. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Nigeria), a master’s degree in English language from the University of Lagos (Nigeria), and a second master’s in communication studies from North Dakota State University. Her research in organizational communication explores topics related to workplace communication, organizational dissent, culture, identity and power. She explores the various expressions of dissent and how employees can effectively communicate in both social and cultural contexts. As a teaching assistant, Okafor has years of experience teaching public speaking and organizational advocacy. She is a recipient of the Loren Reid Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, the inaugural Department of Communication Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award, Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Doctoral Scholars Program Dissertation Award, and Mizzou 18 award. She is a member of the National Communication Association, International Communication Association. Her career goal is to become a professor of organizational communication.

LuBeth Pérez.

LuBeth Pérez (she/her/ella), health science, Nova Southeastern University

LuBeth Pérez is a PhD candidate studying health science at Nova Southeastern University and currently conducting research on the effectiveness of T21 legislation on Texas youth under the mentorship of Elliot Sklar, C. Lynn Chevalier and Page Dobbs. She holds degrees in respiratory therapy, health science, American Sign Language and public health. She earned membership to the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi based on academic excellence. Pérez is active in the American Public Health Association, holding a leadership position within the Public Health Education and Health Promotion section and membership in the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs section, where she is involved in the policy committee. Pérez serves on the board of a local tobacco prevention and control coalition and the Medical and Health Service Management bachelor’s degree program at South Texas College. She is on the steering committee of Unidos Contra la Diabetes and works closely with the Texas Society of Respiratory Care.

Khadejah Ray.

Khadejah Ray (she/her), educational leadership and policy analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Khadejah Ray is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She earned a BA in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was a McNair Research Scholar. Additionally, she earned an MS in educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison. Broadly, her research interests include: the racialized histories of academic disciplines, doctoral socialization, and the sociology of higher education. Her dissertation research, supported by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Minority Dissertation Fellowship, examines how Black doctoral students are socialized into the academic and professional norms of sociology as a discipline.

Luz Robinson.

Luz Robinson (she/her), school psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Luz E. Robinson is a third-year doctoral candidate in school psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For the last five years, she has worked as a research assistant in Dorothy Espelage’s Research Addressing Violence in Education (RAVE) lab and has disseminated research on youth violence prevention. She has co-authored 25 peer-reviewed publications, eight book chapters and over a dozen conference submissions. Her research interests include understanding protective factors to improve outcomes for Latinx and other historically marginalized students in schools and clinical settings. Her clinical work as a bilingual mental health therapist providing culturally responsive mental health services to Latinx youth and families informs her research. She also co-teaches an upstream suicide prevention course at UNC for undergraduate students and was recently awarded a Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Meki Singleton.

Meki Singleton (she/her), gerontology, University of Southern California

Meki Singleton is a PhD candidate in the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. Her research interests focus on sexual and gender minority older adults’ access and utilization of end-of-life care and decision making and long-term care. Prior to attending USC, she earned a BA in psychology and gerontology and an MSW from the University of South Florida. She has published work in several journals including Sexuality Research and Social Policy and the Journal of Applied Gerontology. She received a NIA Aging Research Award to Increase Diversity (R36) grant to fund her dissertation research, which explores the interaction between race and sexual orientation in advance care planning for older lesbian and gay adults. Complementary to her research experience, Singleton has served as a teaching assistant, provided numerous guest lectures and invited talks, and was a Mentored Teaching Fellow through USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching.

Lina Tabak.

Lina Tabak (she/her), music theory, the Graduate Center, CUNY

Lina Sofía Tabak is a PhD candidate in music theory at the CUNY Graduate Center. She was recently awarded the 2023 SMT-40 fellowship for her dissertation titled “I Can’t Feel It That Way: Theorizing Metric Complexity in Colombian Zapateo Genres,” which analyzes the relationships between rhythm, perceived meter and stylistic expertise. She currently teaches music theory at New York University and has previously taught at Brooklyn College. Prior to her doctoral studies, she received a BM in music theory and euphonium performance from Florida State University.

Blake Thompson.

Blake Thompson, curriculum, instruction and teacher education, Michigan State University

Blake Thompson is currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education program. His areas of interest lie at the intersections of critical curriculum and Blackness throughout the Atlantic World, while centering the epistemologies and ontologies of Black folks. While pursuing his PhD, he serves as the director of social studies curriculum at Collegiate Academies Schools in New Orleans, Louisiana. In his role with Collegiate Academies, he works to create experiences that seek to engage Black youth in critical analysis of themselves and communities. He previously taught secondary social studies in both urban and rural contexts, and served as a social studies department lead, founding social studies teacher and founding head football coach at Livingston Collegiate Academy. Thompson seeks to collaboratively create curricula that provides space for Black youth to engage in critical conversations that lead to tangible change. Although academia is not off the table, Thompson knows his work remains in the community with schools, youth and families.

Chesney Ward.

Chesney Ward (she/her), social work, the University of Tennessee

Chesney Ward is a PhD candidate in the social work program at the University of Tennessee. She has eight years of experience in social work practice with middle and older adults in hospice and health care environments. She plans to graduate after her third year and is currently working on her dissertation. She is a member of GSA, Coalition of Black Social Workers, NASW and other affiliated organizations. She plans to become a tenure-track faculty member at an R1 institution and teach future scholars while engaging in rigorous research agendas.

Randi Williams.

Randi Williams (she/her), media arts and sciences, MIT

Randi Williams is a PhD candidate in the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab. Williams earned her SM from MIT and, before that, a BS in computer engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Williams studies AI, robotics, human-computer interaction and computing education, with a focus on serving students from historically marginalized backgrounds. Her projects on social robot learning companions (PopBots) and grade school AI + ethics curricula (How to Train Your Robot) have received coverage from outlets such as The Atlantic, Wired and the MIT Tech Review. She is affiliated with MIT's RAISE initiative and is a founding director of the Boston chapter of Black in Robotics. She has received numerous awards, including the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship, Cambridge Curious Scientist of the Year Award, LEGO Papert Fellowship, and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Brittani Wright.

Brittanni Wright (she/her), health behavior, Indiana University Bloomington

Brittanni Wright is a health behavior PhD candidate at Indiana University Bloomington in the Department of Applied Health Sciences. She obtained her MDiv from Emory University and MPH from Indiana University Bloomington. Broadly, her research interest is at the intersection of religion, sexuality and/or race. She was awarded a four-year graduate scholars fellowship to pursue sexuality research at IU. Currently, her research focuses on the sexual health of Black people living with sickle cell disease. She is a member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, the American Public Health Association, and the International Association of Sickle Cell Nurses and Professional Associates. Wright plans to pursue a career in academia.