Contributions and Accomplishments: The Black History Edition

In honor of Black History Month, it's only right to highlight the contributions and accomplishments of African-Americans in my field! 

1. Ernest E. Just

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Dr. Ernest Just is one of the first African Americans to receive worldwide recognition as a scientist. Just graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH and received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Chicago, enabling him to become one of a few African-Americans with doctoral degrees at that time. In 1907 he took a teaching position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and in 1911, Just and three students founded the Omega Psi Phi fraternity on Howard's campus. Additionally, he is the first recipient of the NAACP's Spingarn Medal (1915). Just is known for his pioneering research on the physiology of development (including fertilization, cell division, ultraviolet carcinogenic radiation effects on cells and more) in marine organisms. During his time as a scientist, Just published over 50 scientific papers and authored two books, Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Mammals (1922) and Biology of the Cell Surface (1939). 


2. Roger A. Young

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Dr. Roger Young is the first African-American woman to received a doctorate degree in Zoology. Young was one of Ernest Just's mentees, and worked with him during the summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. Young graduated with her bachelor's degree from Howard in 1923 and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1937. Within the marine science community, she is known for her research on the effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs, as well as the hydrations and dehydration of living cells.


3. Samuel M. Nabrit

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Dr. Samuel Nabrit is the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from Brown University and to serve on the University's Board of Trustees, the first Morehouse graduate to earn a doctoral degree, the first African-American to be appointed to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the second African-American to be come a member of the Marine Biological Laboratory Corporation. As a marine biologist, Nabrit studied the regeneration of the tail fins of injured fish. In 1967, Nabrit founded the Southern Fellowship Fund, a program designed to provide funding for African-American pursing doctoral degrees. Since 1999, a portrait of Dr. Nabrit has hung at Brown University, alongside the University's most distinguished faulty. 


4. Evan B. Forde

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Evan Forde became the first African-American oceanographer to conduct a research mission aboard a submersible craft in 1979. Forde has a bachelor's degree in Geology, a master's degree in Marine Geology and Geophysics from Columbia University. Forde was well respected in his field and known for his research on the formation, evolution and sedimentary processes of the east coast U.S. submarine canyons. Ford is very active in the area of science education, having spoke to over 40,000 school children and authored science experiments in children's. Currently, Forde is still conducting research and has just completed a curriculum designed to introduce oceanography to middle and high school students in inner-city schools. 


5. Ashanti Johnson

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Dr. Ashanti Johnson is one of the first female African American chemical oceanographers and the first African American to earn a doctoral degree in oceanography from Texas A&M University-Galveston. Her research has been focused on utilizing various biogeochemical indicators to interpret past events that have impacted marine, estuarine and freshwater environments. Johnson is the director of the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success (MS PHDS), which has helped more than 175 minority college students majoring in earth system science find jobs and network with other minority scientists. In 2010, Johnson received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Barack Obama.


I hope my sharing has helped make you aware of a few things, not only about the 5 scientist who paved the way for minorities in the marine science field, but also about the importance of their research and outreach programs. I sincerely appreciate the strides these African-Americans made to increase diversity within our field. I aspire to continue to build upon the foundation that they built and to ultimately improve the representation of minorities within the Marine Science field.

Anjali Boyd