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Three WU doctoral candidates named to diversity society

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:05 am

Three doctoral candidates at Washington University in St. Louis were inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society at the annual Bouchet Conference on Diversity in Graduate Education April 19-20 at Yale University.

Inducted as the seventh class of WUSTL Bouchet Fellows are Stephanie N. Rodriguez, a doctoral candidate in the immunology program in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences; Beverly A. Tsacoyianis, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History in Arts & Sciences; and Sha-Lai L. Williams, who was conferred a PhD from the Brown School during the university’s May 17 Commencement.

The Bouchet Society, named for the first African American to earn a doctorate in the United States, recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate.

Rafia Zafar, PhD, associate dean for diversity and inclusiveness in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, coordinates the WUSTL chapter of the Bouchet Society.

“Our Bouchet honorees take their place among the ranks of the highest achieving doctoral candidates in the nation,” Zafar said.

Rodriguez, who works in the laboratory of Paul M. Allen, PhD, the Robert L. Kroc Professor of Pathology and Immunology, studies the intricate mechanisms of T cell development and how these important immune cells mediate protection to pathogens.

Using a novel CD4 T cell system unique to Allen’s laboratory, her dissertation work investigates the dependence of CD4 T cells on self-molecules for their development into functionally mature and self-tolerant mediators of immune protection, and for continued survival in this mature state.

Her research will address longstanding questions in the field of CD4 T cell development, including the timing, number and duration of immature T cell interactions with cells presenting self-molecules, as well as directly assessing the controversial role of self-molecules in the maintenance of mature CD4 T cells.

The recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Rodriguez has co-authored an article in the Journal of Immunology.

She is director of WUSTL’s Young Scientist Program, which was created in 1991 by medical and graduate students to attract high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds into scientific careers through activities emphasizing hands-on research and interaction between young people and scientists. She has been involved with the organization since 2009 when she joined as a mentor and tutor.

Rodriguez earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with honors in microbes and immunity from Stanford University in 2009.

Tsacoyianis, a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow, is completing her dissertation, “Making Healthy Minds and Bodies in Syria, 1903-1961.”

She studies the social and medical history of mental illness in 20th-century Syria, arguing that psychiatrists in Syria presented mental health treatment to Syrians as more than a way to control or cure mental illness, but as a modernizing worldview to suppress and delegitimize spirit-based vernacular treatment.

Her work contributes to scholarly debates in the history of medicine, particularly in the role of religion and science in healing, and debates about the role of the state and various non-state actors in preserving health and shaping the bodies and minds of citizens.

Tsacoyianis has received numerous honors, including a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellowship and a P.E.O. Scholar award.

She is the book review editor for the Syrian Studies Association, an interdisciplinary, international organization, and speaks and reads multiple languages, including Spanish, French, Hebrew and Arabic.

Through the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund, she also has actively worked to secure safe academic positions for international scholars at risk for discrimination and/or political unrest in their home countries.

Tsacoyianis earned a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic studies with a minor in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies from Brandeis University in 2004. She will start a tenure-track position in Middle Eastern history at the University of Memphis this fall after earning a doctorate in August.

Williams earned a bachelor’s of social work in 1995 from North Carolina State University and a master’s of social work in 1996 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She was a licensed clinical social worker for more than 10 years and a supervisor to provisionally licensed clinical social workers in North Carolina for three years.

Her dissertation, “Mental Health Service Utilization Rates Among African-American Emerging Adults,” draws on her research in cultural competence among social work and helping professionals and racial/ethnic disparities in access to and use of quality mental health services.

A Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow, Williams also has received a pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health under the auspices of its training grant program.

She has co-authored articles in Perspectives on Social Work, Health Promotion Practice and Patient Education and Counseling. 

Williams, an ordained evangelist, has volunteered as a youth and young adult counselor with the New Destiny Apostolic Church in Maplewood, Mo., since 2009.

She will join the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri-St Louis as a tenure-track assistant professor in the fall.

Yale and Howard universities established the Bouchet Society in 2005 to recognize the life and academic contributions of Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African American to earn a doctorate from an American university. Bouchet was the sixth person in the Western Hemisphere to be awarded the PhD in physics, which he earned from Yale in 1876. He also earned an undergraduate degree from Yale in 1874 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

WUSTL was invited to become a Bouchet chapter member in 2007, joining Georgetown and Cornell universities and the universities of Michigan and Washington, among other peer institutions.

A WUSTL committee selected the university’s latest class of Bouchet Fellows. Members of the committee are: Zafar; Adrienne D. Davis, JD, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law; and Elaine P. Berland, PhD, associate dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and director of the Liberman Graduate Center.

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