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FAMU Makes History with Two Black Female Doctoral Graduates in Physics

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University continues to be the top producer of doctoral degrees awarded to African Americans in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related programs (STEM), according to the FAMU Annual Accountability Report.

Staci R. Brown from Chicago, Illinois and Patrice Jackson-Edwards from Jacksonville, Florida both received their doctoral degrees in physics during the FAMU 2015 Spring Commencement exercise. Doctoral degrees in physics received by Black women are a rare and uncommon occurrence. According to data provided by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), there were approximately 1,600 doctoral degrees awarded in physics in 2013-2014; none were received by women, and only two were received by Blacks, both of which were earned at FAMU.

Both women received undergraduate degrees in physics from FAMU and presented research on various topics such as detection sensitivity and the use of K-shell X-ray Fluorescence (KXRF).

Brown was inspired by her strong, inspirational female science teachers during her early matriculation in elementary, middle, and high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from FAMU in 2006 and a master’s degree in physics from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 2009. She did not want to be limited in her career by not having the appropriate credentials, which eventually led her to pursue her doctoral degree in physics.

"It was natural for me to continue and pursue a Ph.D.," said Brown. "FAMU provided me with a strong academic foundation in physics and instilled in me the qualities of a true leader."

Under the direction of Physics Professor Lewis Johnson, Ph.D., Brown completed her doctoral research, which involved the use of Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) for the elemental analysis of organic and isotope-enriched materials to improve detection sensitivity.

She has published several scientific papers, presented research at over a dozen national and international technical conferences, and has won numerous awards for her research. Currently, Brown is assigned to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Office of Defense Programs Research and Development as an NNSA Fellow, and will assume a full-time position as a staff scientist with NNSA.

Brown's career and research goals are to use lasers for the standoff detection of explosive devices and isotope enriched materials. Additionally, she aspires to work her way up to a high-level management position in government or industry so that she can be at the forefront of the decisions being made to provide support and funding to national science initiatives.

Jackson-Edwards’ first interest in science was sparked during her years in middle school when one of her teachers made his students conduct small experiments.

"My teacher would show his students how the experiments were related to real world situations. I’m a real hands-on kind of person, and I like to see how things apply to the real world," said Jackson-Edwards. "I don't like it when teachers teach something and they don't explain where it comes from."

Jackson-Edwards did not start out wanting a doctoral degree before she learned about the different levels and benefits of obtaining her doctorate. Her love and passion for science pushed her to continue school.

"I love science, research, figuring out problems, and working with students. Physics was something I struggled with when I was younger, but having to spend numerous hours studying for it made me like it a lot more," Jackson-Edwards expressed. "There is no turning back after you’ve invested so much time in school. Those are the things I love to do. That’s what keeps me going."

Jackson-Edwards had the opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary research projects with the Department of Physics and the School of the Environment, and has presented research at various technical conferences. She completed her doctoral research that involved the use of K-shell X-ray Fluorescence (KXRF) to conduct lead burden studies under the direction of Physics Professor Elliott Treadwell, Ph.D.

While in the process of publishing several papers, Jackson-Edwards is currently pursuing tenure-track academic positions at colleges in Florida and Georgia where she plans to teach physics and continue to pursue her research.

"I would like to get into academia because of the way I’ve had educators help me. I would like to offer that same help to someone else and possibly spark their interests in the fields of science," she said. "There’s nothing better than the look on a student's face when they finally figure something out. For you to be a part of that is very rewarding as an educator."

"Congratulations to Drs. Staci Brown and Patrice Jackson-Edwards for their hard work, dedication, and perseverance," said FAMU President Elmira Mangum, Ph.D. They represent the quality of students we have at FAMU and, moreover, demonstrate the University’s contribution to improving and enhancing the quality of life for people throughout the nation and the world. The fact that FAMU is responsible for producing the only two Black female doctoral graduates this spring shows how critical we are to promoting social and economic mobility in this nation."


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