Carcia Carson, a Jackson State University alumnus, has made history by becoming the first Black woman to earn a PhD in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University. Her dissertation focused on engineering cancer cell surfaces with nanomaterial drug carriers to enhance immunogenicity of whole cell-based cancer vaccines.
Carson, who graduated from JSU in 2014 with a BS in physics, said she was inspired by her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis and participation in an immunotherapy clinical trial. She wanted to pursue translational research that could directly impact the treatment and lives of cancer patients.
“I look forward to diversifying my industry and continuing the discussion of representation in high-level research environments,” she said.
Carson joined the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD Bridge Program after completing her undergraduate degree and earned a master’s degree in physics from Fisk University. She then transitioned to Vanderbilt University, where she joined the lab of Dr. John T. Wilson, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
In her research, Carson used streptavidin-biotin interactions to conjugate cyclic dinucleotide (CDN) loaded nanoparticles (NPs) to B16 melanoma cell surfaces. CDNs are stimulators of interferon genes (STING) agonists that can induce an innate immune response against tumors. NPs can facilitate the delivery of CDNs into the cytosol of cells, where they can activate STING.
Carson’s goal was to elicit a robust immune response by co-localizing STING agonist and dying cancer cells at the site of injection. She demonstrated that her approach could enhance the anti-tumor efficacy of whole cell-based cancer vaccines in mice.
Carson has published several peer-reviewed papers based on her work and received national scholarships and awards, such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship.
She also mentored undergraduate and high school students in STEM fields and participated in outreach activities to promote diversity and inclusion in academia.
Carson said she faced challenges and imposter syndrome during her graduate studies, but she overcame them by finding mentors and joining organizations that supported Black graduate students.
She credited her time at JSU for preparing her for success and teaching her how to network with other professionals in her field.
She also thanked her family, friends, advisors, and mentors for their encouragement and guidance throughout her journey.
Carson plans to pursue a postdoctoral position in cancer immunotherapy after graduation. She hopes to become a leader and innovator in biomedical engineering and inspire the next generation of Black women scientists and engineers.
Another lady doing academic wonders is Makenzie Thompson, an 18-year-old high school senior from South Fulton, Georgia, who has achieved an impressive feat: she has been accepted to 49 colleges and offered $1.3 million in scholarships. She is also the class president, co-captain of the dance team, vice president of Beta Club, and a member of the national honor society. She wants to become a veterinarian and has chosen to attend Tuskegee University, a historically Black school in Alabama, for its renowned animal science program.
Thompson has always been a diligent student who excelled in academics and extracurricular activities. She credits her success to her time management skills and her supportive parents who encouraged her to do her best. “They don’t expect perfection out of me, but they do expect my best effort,” she told TODAY. She applied to 51 universities after attending college fairs and receiving fee waivers. She said that her applications stood out because of her involvement in school and community service. She also said that she was motivated by her love for animals and her desire to help them.
Thompson received acceptance letters from 49 colleges, including prestigious institutions such as Howard University, Spelman College, Hampton University, and Morehouse College. She also received over $1.3 million in scholarship offers from various sources. She said that it was a rewarding experience to see her hard work pay off and to have so many options for her future. “It was a very, very good experience, just to see your hard work paying off and getting to see them just pile up in a folder,” she told CNN. Click here to continue reading about Makenzie and her exploits.