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Sixteen scholars named Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows with aim to enhance diversity in academia

May 26, 2020, 10 a.m.

Sixteen scholars from across the disciplines have been named Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows at Princeton. They join 12 fellows who were the first cohort selected to the program last year, with the aim of enhancing diversity in the professoriate.

“Our 16 new Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows are an impressive group of early-career scholars, both in terms of their fields of expertise as well as the diversity of backgrounds they bring to Princeton,” said Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni. “They join last year’s 12 inaugural Postdoctoral Research Fellows to pursue research projects under the direction of faculty mentors, and enrich our academic departments and campus in the process. We are looking forward to this coming year with a full cohort of 28 outstanding fellows in the program.”

The program is intended to recognize and support scholars who can contribute to the University’s diversity, broadly defined, including groups that have been historically and are presently underrepresented in the academy or in certain disciplines. Fellows will begin their terms between July 1, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021.

The program is coordinated by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, with support from the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. The Faculty Advisory Committee on Diversity, chaired by the dean of the faculty, reviews the nominations and selects the awardees. The award is renewable for a second year.

The program is co-directed by Princeton faculty Mala Murthy, Rodney Priestley, Stacey Sinclair and Howard Stone.

The Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows contribute to the vibrant intellectual life at Princeton with a wide range of novel ideas, perspectives and experiences,” said Stacey Sinclair, professor of psychology and public affairs. “With this new cohort, the impact of the program will be amplified. It is exciting to provide an institutional home for a diverse group of talented, young intellectuals as they lay the foundations of what will be exceptional academic careers.”

“It is stimulating to discuss research and professional development topics with the first 12 of the presidential postdocs,” said Howard Stone, the Donald R. Dixon ’69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and department chair. “Their research topics are fascinating and they bring curiosity to conversations and energy to discussions, which I find refreshing. Every interaction is enjoyable. Adding 16 more colleagues with impressive research accomplishments will enrich our community even more. I look forward to the next steps in this new program Princeton University has enabled to enhance the academy.”

The 2020 Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows are listed below.

R. Konane Bay will join the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, where she intends to develop a new class of materials within the emerging field of engineered living materials. Bay holds a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Bay received multiple awards for her Ph.D. research, including the ACS Eastman Chemical Student Award in Applied Polymer Science in 2019 and Best Poster Award at the Annual Meeting of the Adhesion Society in 2019. She was an APS Frank J. Padden Jr. Award finalist in 2020. Bay will be advised by Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering.

Bailey Brown will join the Department of Sociology, with a focus on how structural and cultural social processes limit opportunities and outcomes for families and contribute to the persistence of inequality, as exemplified by families’ school selection processes for their kindergarteners. Brown is completing her Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, where she previously earned a M.Phil. and an M.A. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Brown will be advised by Jennifer Jennings, professor of sociology and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School.

Khytie Brown will join the Program in American Studies, where she will work in the Center for Transnational Policing to transform her dissertation, “Afro-Queer Journeys: Transnational Revival Zion Religion in Jamaica and Panama,” into a book-length manuscript. Brown is completing her Ph.D. in African and African American studies at Harvard University, and holds a M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree from Emory University. Her research interests span religious expression and cultural production in the Caribbean and Latin America, sensory epistemologies, mediation, gender and sexuality, commodity culture, racialization, and policing. She will be advised by Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, professor of American studies and co-director of the Center on Transnational Policing.

Kofi Christie will join the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a research objective to design and produce a novel, multifunctional polymer membrane that can be used in applications that leverage renewable forms of energy to generate clean water. Christie hold a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Morehouse College. Christie will be advised by Z. Jason Ren, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

Rodrick Kuate Defo will join the Department of Electrical Engineering. His proposed research will answer several open questions in the field of nanophotonics and provide new tools and design insights in the area of materials engineering. Kuate Defo completed his Ph.D. in physics with a secondary field in computational science and engineering at Harvard University. His bachelor’s degree in math and physics is from McGill University. Kuate Defo will be advised by Alejandro Rodriguez, associate professor of electrical engineering and director of the Program in Material Science and Engineering.

Paola Estrada is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Molecular Biology, where she studies how small molecules are made by the human microbiome and how these molecules are involved in mediating interactions with the host and surrounding microbes. Estrada holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, master’s credits in biochemistry from Hunter College, and a bachelor’s degree in forensic science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is advised by Mohamed Abou Donia, assistant professor of molecular biology.

Javier Masís will join the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, studying the phenomenon of learning within the framework of bounded optimality, working toward a broader, more comprehensive theory of cognition. Masís holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, a master’s degree in biology from Harvard and a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Princeton. He will be advised by Jonathan Cohen, the Robert Bendheim and Lynn Bendheim Thoman Professor in Neuroscience, professor of psychology, and co-director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

Samantha McBride will join the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Her research combines materials science, fluid physics and water chemistry toward developing antifouling materials for improving sustainability and lowering costs associated with water treatment. McBride holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Nevada.  She will be advised by Howard Stone, the Donald R. Dixon '69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Diogo Melo will join the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, with a focus on the general problem of mapping genotype to phenotype for complex traits, and understanding how genetic networks drive phenotypic evolution. Melo’s degrees are from the Universidade de São Paulo, from which he has a Ph.D. in genetics and evolutionary biology and bachelor’s degrees in evolutionary biology and in biology and applied mathematics. He will be advised by Julien Ayroles, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

Ravaris Moore will join the Department of Sociology, advancing research that quantifies the effects of community gun violence and school shootings on children’s educational trajectories. Moore is an assistant professor of sociology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He completed his graduate training at UCLA, earning master’s degrees in sociology and economics, as well as a Ph.D. in sociology. Moore also holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from Morehouse College. Prior to matriculating at UCLA, Moore contributed to several national evaluations as a research programmer in the Human Services division of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Moore will be jointly advised by three faculty members: Patrick Sharkey, professor of sociology and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School; Yu Xie, the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Sociology and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and director of the Center on Contemporary China; and Tod Hamilton, associate professor of sociology, and a Charles G. Osgood University Preceptor.

Lotanna Micah Nneji will join the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where he will conduct the first DNA metabarcoding analyses of the diet composition and niche relationships of herbivorous birds—ostrich, guineafowl, spurfowl and bustard — at Princeton’s Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. Nneji holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Abuja, Nigeria. He will be advised by Robert Pringle, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Eziaku Nwokocha will join the Department of Religion as a scholar of Africana religions with expertise in the ethnographic study of Vodou in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Her research is grounded in thorough understanding of religions in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, in gender and sexuality studies, and Africana studies generally. Nwokocha holds a Ph.D. in Africana studies from the University of Pennsylvania and was a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow. She has a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree in Black studies and feminist studies from the University of California-Santa Barbara, where she was a Ronald E. McNair scholar. Nwokocha will be advised by Judith Weisenfeld, the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion and chair of the Department of Religion.

Elizabeth Paul will join the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, with interests in problems at the intersection of advanced numerical methods and plasma physics applications. She is completing her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland-College Park. Paul holds a bachelor’s degree in astrophysical sciences from Princeton. She will be advised by Amitava Bhattacharjee, professor of astrophysical sciences.

Jose Roque will join the Department of Chemistry, focused on broadening his scientific repertoire to include transition metal catalysis, particularly with Earth abundant metals such as iron and cobalt. Roque is completing his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley, where he worked under Professor Richmond Sarpong. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida International University. Roque will be advised by Paul Chirik, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry.

Anthony Urena will join the Department of Sociology. He is completing his Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University and holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and human biology from Brown University. Urena employs qualitative methodologies to examine the social dimensions of disease risk perception within disproportionately affected communities. At Princeton, Urena's postdoctoral research will focus on how Black and Latino men who have sex with men make sense of the contemporary HIV epidemic in the United States. Urena will be advised by Frederick Wherry, the Townsend Martin, Class of 1917 Professor of Sociology.

Erika Valdivieso will join the Department of Classics, with an interest in recovering the intellectual traditions of colonial Latin America, as informed by the legacy of classical humanism. Valdivieso completed her Ph.D. in classics at Brown University. She holds a master’s degree in Latin and bachelor’s degree in classics from the University of Michigan. Valdivieso will be advised by Dan-el Padilla Peralta, associate professor of classics and associated faculty in the programs in Latin American studies and Latino studies and the University Center for Human Values.