Bouchet Society Students Highlight Research, Advocacy Efforts

Six Ph.D. students will be inducted into the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, which recognizes diversity and excellence in doctoral education.

March 21, 2023

Bouchet Society

From left: CCAS Dean Paul Wahbeck with Bouchet inductees GJ Sevillano, Rachel Nelson, Etai Mizrav, Simone Sawyer and CCAS Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Chad Heap. Vernicia Griffie and Vinaya Murthy attended remotely. (Photos:William Atkins/GW Today)

Six George Washington University Ph.D. students will join a network of preeminent scholars from across the country later this month when they are inducted into the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, which celebrates diversity and excellence in doctoral education.

The students were cited for research that included uncovering educational inequalities, studying female chimpanzees in Tanzania and exploring the intersection of food, race and power in Filipino American culture. They were also recognized for advocacy efforts like promoting youth leadership in mental health services and mentoring the next generation of counselors and physicians.

“Events such as this showcase the importance of not only welcoming but actively working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are central to the university’s educational mission,” said Paul Wahlbeck, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS), at a March 7 ceremony honoring the nominees. “Diverse perspectives inform and enrich our research, our scholarship and our creative endeavors, as does our shared commitment to creating and fostering an inclusive learning environment.”

Named for the first African American doctoral recipient in the United States and chartered jointly by Yale and Howard universities in 2005, the society now has 19 chapters at universities across the country. Its goals include developing a network of scholars who exemplify academic and personal excellence; fostering environments of support; and serving as examples of scholarship, leadership and advocacy for people who have been traditionally underrepresented in academics.

Since its founding in 2009, 48 doctoral students and alumni have been inducted into the GW chapter of the Bouchet Society, noted CCAS Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Chad Heap. This year marks the first time that CCAS and Graduate School of Education and Human Development inductees were joined by Ph.D. candidates from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

The six students will be formally inducted into the society at the annual Edward A. Bouchet Conference at Yale University on March 31.

Meet the Inductees 

Vernicia Griffie

Vernicia Griffie is a Ph.D. candidate at the CCAS Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. Her research measures the impact and efficacy of state-sponsored social welfare programs in the United States and assesses their true costs to the consumers who need them. By improving access to benefits and increasing equity within the system, the government can “foster a functioning and accessible social safety net for all of its citizens,” she said. At GW, she has served as a research assistant and lecturer and volunteered as a statistics and microeconomics tutor. “Receiving this honor reminds me to always be intentional in seeking out ways to use my time and talents to benefit both my local community and my community at GW,” she said.

Etai Mizrav

Etai Misrav

Etai Mizrav, a Ph.D. candidate in educational policy, investigates how discriminatory educational policies and practices contribute to opportunity and achievement gaps. “I am deeply troubled on a personal and professional level by gaps in education outcomes that are based on factors that have nothing to do with talent and ability, such as income or race,” he said. He is an expert in addressing educator shortages and diversifying the teacher workforce, and has designed tools that numerous states, districts and schools use to identify equity gaps. He has also worked as a consultant at the American Institutes for Research and a manager of education policy and equity for the Washington, D.C., Office of the State Superintendent of Education.   

 Vinaya Murthy

A  Ph.D. candidate in translational health sciences, Vinaya Murthy’s research focuses on genomic medicine training in graduate medical education. Her passion for education was sparked by her efforts to bring genetics education to underserved communities including Indigenous tribes in Montana, African Americans in Pittsburgh and families in rural Montana. A co-chair for the National Organization for Rare Disorders Center of Excellence Medical Professional Education Workgroup, Murthy strives to be a mentor for the next generation of genetic counselors and physicians. “Health care providers are coming out of school not knowing about genetic testing in clinical settings,” she said. “I am able to encourage graduate and medical students to think about how the work we do impacts patients and their families.”

Rachel Nelson

Rachel Nelson

Rachel Nelson, a Ph.D. candidate in the  CCAS Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, investigates how female chimpanzees in Tanzania stay hydrated during lactation. “It’s hard to be a female chimpanzee,” she said. “They’re single moms who nurse their babies for five to 10 years. That’s a hefty time commitment—and a hefty water investment.” A member of the GW Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, Nelson is dedicated to making primatology more inclusive, advocating for local researchers—like her Tanzanian colleagues who collected data during the pandemic. “Primatology is very centered on Western white scientists, but the bulk of that research is not done by Western white scientists,” she said. 

Simone Sawyer

Simone Sawyer

A Ph.D. candidate in social and behavioral sciences, Simone Sawyer explores how community-based participatory research can reduce disparities in mental, sexual and reproductive health services for youth and young adults. “The core of my research is rooted in equity, justice and partnership,” she said, as she works to “ensure that people who aren’t usually at the decision-making tables for health and community programs have a seat at that table.” She also leads a youth-adult partnership group within Washington, D.C.’s school mental health system. As a Black woman and first generation doctoral student, she said, “having the Bouchet Society at GW affirms me and shows me that we will make progress and stay committed to our path towards equity.”

GJ Sevillano

GJ Sevillano

GJ Sevillano, a Ph.D. candidate in American studies, also received his M.A. in American studies from CCAS in 2021. His research on the culinary identities of Filipino Americans is at the nexus of Asian American studies, critical food studies and cultural theory. He has served on the CCAS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and is an advocate for the expansion of Asian American studies on campus. “Being inducted into the Bouchet Society is validation of not only my work as a scholar-activist, but also the work of those who have supported me on this journey,” he said. “This honor is also a great reminder for me—a queer, first-generation low-income Filipino American student and scholar—that my work and voice are important.”