By Charlene Balewa
FAMU alumna Jami Valentine, Ph.D. earned her bachelor’s degree in physics, graduating cum laude in 1996. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in physics from Brown University in Rhode Island, where she received the Brown University Fellowship as well as the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowship. While at Brown, Valentine was awarded the Master of Science in Physics in 1998. She also earned a certificate in teaching from the H. W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. And she didn’t stop there. Valentine went on to the department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, where she worked in experimental condensed matter physics, under the guidance of Professor C.L. Chien. In 2006, she became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins University, where she studied the physics behind magneto–electronic materials and devices. Dr. Valentine currently works with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), where she examines semiconductor patent applications for phase-change memory, nanoscale memory, and spintronic devices.
Join us in a Q&A as we follow Valentine’s FAMU journey to success:
What influenced you in deciding to attend FAMU and in choosing your major?
When I was a high school student, I met Dr. Leonard Johnson who served as president of the FAMU National Alumni Association. Johnson invited several students from our high school in Philadelphia to attend a FAMU campus tour. During my visit, he arranged a meeting with President Fredrick Humphries, Ph.D., who gave me a Life Gets Better Scholarship on the spot, along with four summer internships in California.
I was always good in math and science and needed a scholarship. Because of my interest in (STEM) courses, I chose physics.
What advice do you have for incoming students today?
Be adventurous! Don’t be afraid to try new things. Make deep connections with your friends and your classmates because these are the experiences that will shape your life. You will find that you will make lifetime contacts with your peers and you will learn things that you never imagined.
What was your favorite course taken and why?
I would have to say my astronomy course. In all honesty, I did not have a full appreciation for the subject at first. As I learned more about the subject, it awed me and I enjoyed it immensely. That course allowed me to see how the entire universe came together; it gave explanation for all of the physics of the stars, the moons, and the planets.
What was your best memory at FAMU?
I really enjoyed the Life Gets Better meetings we would attend as students on “The Hill.” During that time, FAMU recruited the most national merit scholars. On campus all the scholars would meet at the Life Gets Better meetings, which at times felt overwhelming, but it was wonderful to be in the presence of so many students who were pursuing unexpected goals. It was not strange for me to say I was studying physics because my best friends were chemistry and engineering majors. It gave us all a sense of comfort within ourselves, instead of just carrying a label as valedictorian or the person with the highest SAT score. FAMU made it a very comfortable place to be an African-American scholar.
Also, I met my sweetie, Cecil Miller, there on campus. He was a Life Gets Better Scholar as well. Although, we didn’t date while in college we reunited years later in Washington, D.C. and today we are married and have a son named Nigel who is three years old.
What did FAMU teach you?
FAMU instilled in me a sense of giving back and building community. One of the ways that I do that is through a website I created that memorializes and chronicles all of the African-American women with Ph.D.’s in physics. Currently, there are approximately eighty throughout the nation. The website is http://www.aawip.com/.
Last thing, I am proud to announce that I recently became a life member of the FAMU Alumni Association.