By John DiConsiglio
Five Ph.D. students from the George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts & Sciences (CCAS) will join a network of preeminent scholars from across the country this spring 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 ranging from commemorating Black Civil War soldiers to discovering new ovarian cancer treatments to saving endangered mountain gorillas. They were also recognized for advocacy efforts like promoting diversity in higher education, mentoring women in STEM fields and contributing to science-based school curriculums.
“I’m thrilled to celebrate the achievements of these outstanding doctoral students,” CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck said at a March 8 ceremony honoring the nominees. “I’m blown away by your accomplishments, your research and your commitment to diversity in your community. ... I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each of you.”
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.
At GW’s ceremony, Provost Christopher Alan Bracey noted that committing to diversity in higher education “increases our capacity to grow and create knowledge, and prepares our graduates to become leaders and trailblazers in an increasingly diverse and global society.”
The five students will be formally inducted into the society at a remote ceremony in April.
Meet the Inductees
A Ph.D. candidate in history, Anthony J. (AJ) Cade II’s research chronicles the overlooked legacy of the Louisiana Native Guards, the first Union Army regiment during the Civil War with Black officers leading Black soldiers into battle. He is a retired U.S. Marine, a historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) and co-chair of CMH’s Diversity Inclusion and Equity Taskforce. He also travels to historically Black colleges and universities to promote diversity among graduate degree holders. “Similar to Edward Bouchet—and many people of color—I am the first Ph.D. in my family,” Cade said. “Joining a society built upon welcoming individuals such as myself is in line with my efforts to help diversify my field.”
Claire M. Charpentier is a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical sciences. Her research focuses on understanding the neural tube, which contributes to the formation of the brain and spinal cord. She uses mouse models to uncover the genetics behind neural tube defects. Charpentier serves on the board of the Society for Neuroscience DC Chapter and is the director of events for STEMxx Chats, a national organization that mentors young women in STEM and connects them with leaders in their fields. She also volunteers with two organizations that serve the homeless population in Washington, D.C. “For me, the Bouchet Society represents the values that I seek to promote in my professional life, namely: service, leadership and advocacy,” she said.
Stephanie Gomez, a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology and immunology, is researching novel epigenetic and immune therapy combinations for treating ovarian cancer. While immunotherapy has transformed cancer care for many patients, she said, ovarian cancer has been largely unresponsive to treatment options. A recipient of the prestigious National Cancer Institute Fellowship, Gomez hopes to broaden the types of tumors that respond to immunotherapy. She is a founding member of the GW Student Organization of Biomedical Sciences, a research mentor for D.C.-area students and an outreach volunteer for groups promoting STEM among underrepresented populations. “Excellent mentorship has made a dramatic difference in accelerating my academic research trajectory, and I am committed to paying it forward by supporting others,” she said.
Axelle Kamanzi Shimwa is a Ph.D. candidate in human paleobiology in the CCAS Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology (CASHP). Her research interests include primate behavior, nutritional ecology and conservation. She currently studies how ecological factors influence the feeding behavior of endangered Virunga mountain gorillas. She mentors students at both GW and her research field site in East Africa, and has developed high school educational materials on wildlife conservation. “I am humbled to be part of the Bouchet Society network,” she said. “This is an amazing opportunity to connect with other scholars and researchers from diverse academic disciplines who are committed to make a positive impact and contribution to higher education.”
Kristen Tuosto is a Ph.D. candidate in human paleobiology. She explores how early-life environmental adversity—like droughts and food shortages—influences bone growth among wild savannah baboons in Southern Kenya. She is a former head facilitator of CASHP’s Diversity in Science steering committee and an outreach volunteer for STEM4Her and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her studies, which have implications for understanding skeletal diseases in both primates and humans, involve collaborating with colleagues in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa. “I have made many meaningful connections with people from all over the world, ” she said. “I consider their perspectives and experiences in everything I do—whether it’s my research, outreach or mentoring.”