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The Bill H. James Foundation for Aspiring African-American Engineers

2019-2020 Scholarship Recipients

Zachery Iton

PhD Candidate

 Materials Science

California Institute of Technology

Zachery transferred to Cal Tech to work on his PhD after completing a double major in Chemistry and Materials Science at University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, he assisted with research on three projects; 1- the viability of cerium oxide nano-plates doped with precious metal nanoparticles to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of catalytic converters for automobiles, 2- the exploration of microwave assisted structural transformation of vanadium oxide nanoparticles for use in smart window applications and, 3- the investigation of the up-conversion and down-conversion characteristics of different rare earth fluorides doped with a variety of lanthanides. His career goal is to “assist the development and continued improvement of alternative energy sources.” He aims to “find the best compromise between efficiency and feasibility to make developing countries wholly self-sufficient using a combination of renewable energy technologies and careful strategic planning.” He has worked as an international volunteer in several countries and enjoys participating in outreach programs for STEM students.

Alexis Thornton

PhD Candidate

Biomolecular Engineering & Bioinformatics

University of California, Santa Cruz

Alexis continues her studies pursuing her PhD. She is working to “create a database of splicing signatures that classify transcriptional responses to different perturbations in immune cells and use these signatures to stratify cancer patients in meaningful ways.”  She hopes to engineer computational methods that will aid in the understanding of immune cells in a tumor microenvironment. She feels that “understanding the relationship between specific immune cells and tumors is important because this relationship can impact cancer growth and response to therapy.” She does not hesitate to collaborate on additional projects wherever they present themselves both with professors within and outside her university. She is a co-author on a publication on bioRxiv which is under peer-review for journal publication and also gave a well-received talk at the 2017 Northern California Computational Biology Symposium. She led an online Python crash course, helped organize a week-long bootcamp for incoming graduate students in her major, and is a formal mentor for undergraduate students.

Theron Smith

PhD Candidate

Mechanical Engineering

University of California, Irvine

As a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering, Theron is pursuing a specialization in Dynamics and Controls. He uses “predictive analytics and artificial intelligence techniques to build algorithms to solve real world problems” and is “developing an algorithm to enhance PEV charging at the local power level by using a centralized real time valley-filling strategy to avoid excess damage to distribution transformers from uncontrolled charging peaks.” He led an 8-person team comprised of students from UC Irvine and Peking University in Beijing, China, to develop a micro-meso scale energy harvesting device using triboelectric materials which could be incorporate into flooring to harness energy from people walking. During the pursuit of his Master’s degree, Theron successfully petitioned to transition to the PhD program. He is an Engineering Ambassador for the Graduate Engineering Student Affairs Office and an undergraduate tutor.

Justin Gaither

Master’s Degree Student

Mechanical Engineering

  University of Southern California

Justin recently completed his undergraduate studies and is beginning his post graduate work. His goal is to “use my skills in controls, dynamics, and finite element analysis to advance our understanding of how reaction forces generated during multi-directional functional tasks affect load distribution at the residual limb-prosthetic interface.” He believes “incorporation of high fidelity integrated dynamic/FE, subject-specific, parameterized computer models into model simulation is expected to advance our working knowledge of how socket interface features, prosthetic componentry, and subject-specific characteristics (i.e. force generating capabilities, anthropomorphics) affect performance and load distribution.” Through this work, Justin hopes to provide the research necessary to design “assistive devices that lower barriers to mobility for the more than two million people living with limb loss in the United States, a large portion of which are veterans.” He has also helped create lesson plans for STEM outreach to middle and high school students about aerodynamics and takes an active role in welcoming, training, and mentoring high school students and new research assistants.

Nicholas Mutunga

Undergraduate Student

Civil & Environmental Engineering

University of California, Davis

Nicholas has taken on the challenge of pursuing double undergraduate engineering majors. He has a deep appreciation of the privileges we often take for granted with easy access to clean water and healthy sanitation systems. As a future engineering project, he would like to develop “a water distribution and sanitary sewer infrastructure project in Kenya and other developing nations.” With many people without access to clean water and sanitation, he feels this project can “improve the livelihood of billions of people and so it should be a top priority.”  Nicholas has enjoyed working as an Engineering Design Student Assistant at the Sacramento Area Sewer District where he has been given the opportunity to lead sewer restoration projects and gain valuable hands-on experience. He is active with Engineers without Borders and is involved on campus as an Undergraduate Research Assistant.