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Science Faculty Featured in Newspaper’s Black in Academia Series

Science Faculty Featured in Newspaper’s Black in Academia Series

Over the summer, five faculty members in the College of Natural Sciences were spotlighted in a series by the Austin American-Statesman called Black in Academia. The purpose of the series was to explore the scientific research done by Black scientists at The University of Texas at Austin, as well as highlight the challenges they face in the academic world.

From a particle-hunting physicist to a family researcher to a paleobiologist, a microbiologist and an astronomer, the faculty who participated hail from five departments in the college.

Keith Hawkins, an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy, joined the university in 2018. His research focuses on using the archeology of galaxies and stars to try and determine how our own Milky Way galaxy formed. "I'm like the Indiana Jones of the Galaxy," he explained.

Kemp excavating a cave on the Caribbean island of Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe, during field work in 2013.

Melissa Kemp, an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and the Department of Geological Sciences, joined our faculty in 2018. Her research examines the effects of environmental changes on extinction and biodiversity by using the fossil record. She spoke about the value of mentoring students, be they graduate students, undergraduates or even high schoolers from communities underrepresented in science: "Seeing the joy in their eyes when they touch a fossil for the first time or visit a museum collection has been really valuable to me, and is certainly one of the highlights of my career."

Urbain Weyemi, as assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, became a UT Austin faculty member in 2019. His research focuses on understanding how damage to human DNA leads to cancer and other diseases. Asked about advice he would give to young Black researchers, Weyemi said to look beyond those who are unwilling to be a source of support and remain focused on those who are: "Do not hesitate to reach out to people if they can help."

Fatima Varner, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, joined the faculty in 2016. She studies the impact that race-related stressors can have on Black families, parenting and the mental health and academic achievement of adolescents. She told the paper: "African American children, on average, are in schools with fewer resources and experience discrimination. All those things can be negative for achievement, but you still see … more and more African American children going off to college and doing well. I wanted to understand more about what was influencing that variation and what helps people succeed."

Onyisi (center) with a group of UT students and faculty members at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. Behind them is a magnet like the one used in the Large Hadron Collider.

Peter Onyisi, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, joined UT Austin as a faculty member in 2012. He studies dark matter and elementary particles and was part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson. Asked about how STEM and academia can be improved for future generations of young Black researchers, he observed: "We have to get people who are interested in the sciences into college, and they have to be confident they can do well. Then you have to keep them and let them do well. At all of these stages, things can break."

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Tuesday, 07 February 2023

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