Tallahassee, Fla. – Florida A&M University (FAMU) bestowed degrees upon 452 candidates for graduation this summer; including four doctoral candidates for the doctorate of philosophy in physics: Arnesto Bowman of Gulfport, Miss.; Daniel Gebremedhin of Mekelle, Ethiopia; Jorge Martinez of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.; and Johnny Williamson of Sacramento, Calif. According to the National Science Foundation, there were 15 Black and 37 Hispanic physics doctorate recipients in the U.S. in 2011.
“It is phenomenal that one institution is graduating four minority physics Ph.D. students at the same time,” said Maurice Edington, Dean, FAMU College of Science and Technology. “This is a testament to the dedication and hard work of our outstanding faculty in the FAMU physics program, and it highlights the important role that FAMU continues to play in helping to address statewide and national efforts to increase the numbers of highly-qualified STEM graduates.”
Martinez, a native of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., wasn’t a child who had to be pushed into the sciences. Becoming a scientist is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“As a kid, I wanted to become a fighter pilot or a research scientist,” said Martinez. “Once I realized my eyesight wasn’t 20/20 I said, ‘research scientist it is. We have a unique environment here at FAMU and there is always a need for more minorities in the STEM fields.’”
Martinez earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at FAMU and pursued his master’s degree at the University of Central Florida. He decided to come back to FAMU for his doctorate after talking with his former professor, Lewis Johnson, Ph.D. about the program.
“Jorge is leaving FAMU as an extremely capable and innovative young scientist, ready to compete with graduates from top tier programs,” said Johnson. “I’m proud of him as a young man, and his love and knowledge of science. I expect great things from him in the years to come.”
Martinez will continue his studies as a post-doctoral fellow at Colorado State University, working on free electron lasers.
Gebremedhin says he’s been interested in numbers and calculations for as long as he can remember.
“Although physics was one of my favorite subjects in high school, I didn’t decide to actually major in it until after the first semester here at FAMU,” said Gebremedhin, who holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Addis Ababa University. “After a semester here, I started learning the theory behind some of the applications I’ve been taught in engineering school. Later when I started research, I had a chance to implement my talent for computer programming, which is very useful in theoretical physics these days.”
Grebremedhin will continue to work with his advisor, Charles Weatherford, Ph.D., as a post-doctoral researcher for the next year. He believes that a strong foundation in mathematics is the key to helping students develop an interest in the STEM disciplines.
“Mathematics is the only subject, I think, that actually sharpens our problem solving ability and translates to many fields in science and beyond,” he said.
Bowman believes the real key to getting children interested in science is to let kids be kids. He personally didn’t find his way into physics until his freshman year at Fisk University after competing a physic research internship.
“If kids want to play with insects, in the dirt or in water puddles, let them,” said Bowman. “This helps build their intuition about the physical world which may lead to them being engaged in science when they get to middle or high school. People say physics is hard, so maybe changing the tone when talking about science in general would help.”
According to a report by the National Science Foundation, African Americans and Latinos each comprise 13 percent of the total workforce and only three percent of the technical workforce. In a recent report on the advancement of women and minorities in science, engineering and technology (SET) disciplines, NSF noted that an increasingly large proportion of the workforce consists of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities and these groups are not well represented in science, engineering, and technology fields. “Unless the SET labor market becomes more representative of the general U.S. workforce, the nation may likely face severe shortages in SET workers, such as those already seen in many computer-related occupations.”
FAMU also awarded a doctorate in education, a doctorate in pharmacy, a doctor of physical therapy, a doctor of public health and a doctor of pharmacy during the summer commencement ceremony.
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