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

 Scholarship Recipients

2023 Recipients 

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Devon Woodfine

Undergraduate Student Mechanical Engineering

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona 

Devon is an accomplished undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His area of interest is the use of intelligent machines to advance medical devices in clinical settings to improve the analysis of patient diagnoses. He has completed several internships where he gained valuable experience in the field of medical devices and biomechanics. On one biomechanics project, Devon optimized orthopedic devices used in high-risk surgeries resulting in the project sponsor, Johnson and Johnson, awarding a grant to extend research with Devon as the lead undergraduate researcher. Devon has received over 35 awards in medical devices and mechanical engineering and has been described by one of his professors as a “unique talent”. Devon also excels in leadership, he has served as his college’s NSBE President and believes in paying it forward through his efforts to develop, recruit and retain the next generation of Black STEAM students at the K-12 level.

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Sally’s undergraduate degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering and her Master’s degree in Bioengineering allow her to use a multidisciplinary approach to discover the “intricate connections between public transportation, walkability, and health outcomes”. She feels that a diverse community of engineers can spotlight the importance of this work which is especially important for lower-income communities who have often suffered from inadequate urban planning. Sally will use her expertise in advanced data analysis, machine learning algorithms and statistical models to accomplish her goals. She has contributed to a variety of internships and relevant research projects and has served as the Program Chair for NSBE and the Outreach Coordinator for the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Sally Ahmed
Master’s Degree Student


University of California, Berkeley

2022 Recipients 

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Kely was recently accepted into the Mechanical Engineering Master’s program at UC Berekley after earning his undergraduate degree at Stevens Institute of Technology. He is focusing his studies on Product Development which emphasizes entrepreneurial training with the aspiration to develop a product for use in the home. In the corporate setting, he was a highly ranked team member on the Mechanical Engineering Team at ExxonMobil for several years and led several projects to completion. Kely also was the lead tutor at a local middle school and helped raise the school’s STAAR test scores by 25%. He is described as a person of integrity with intellectual curiosity and a passion for achieving goals.

Kely Amegbor
Master’s Degree Student Mechanical Engineering University of California, Berkeley

As a double major in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Jonathan aspires to be an astronaut who will one day colonize Mars. He asserts that diversity will foster the necessary creativity to expedite deep space exploration and will ensure prior colonial atrocities such as genocide and slavery do not reoccur. Jonathan has been recognized as an Emerging Scholar by the National Science Foundation LSAMP/California Alliance for Minority Participation program. He is described as a bright and conscientious collaborator and has been a Student Ambassador and volunteer tutor working with the Early Academic Outreach Program at UC Davis to guide and prepare K-12 students for higher education.

Jonathan Hale

Undergraduate Student Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering 

University of California, Davis

Torus Washington II

PhD Candidate Nanoengineering

University of California, San Diego

As a PhD candidate in Nanoengineering, Torus is fulfilling his life-long dream to be an inventor. His studies focus on developing nanomedicine strategies that can treat disease at the individual cell level. He is primarily working with cancer cells, but feels his therapies can be extrapolated to additional diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Sickle Cell, and Lupus. He hopes to operate his own nanomedicine company to ensure these groundbreaking technologies will be available to all people. He is described as dedicated, driven and compassionate. He has demonstrated his innovation and initiative in designing and facilitating workshops, has redesigned a website of teaching resources. Torus is the recipient of numerous awards, is active in multiple organizations, and participates in outreach to aspiring engineering students.

2021 Recipient 

Micalah, a McNair Scholar, graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Texas at Arlington with a B.S. in Environmental and Earth Science. She is currently in the Masters program at Stanford University where she is studying Environmental Engineering. Her area of focus is riparian restoration where she hopes to develop biotechnical or bioengineering projects that can be used by municipalities to “restore and stabilize riparian areas that have been ravaged by human activities”. She is keen to address the historical disparity in environmental solutions for more diverse or lower income communities, especially those of color. Micalah is eager to “discover and implement practical, multifaceted solutions to challenging environmental conundrums”. Through her previous employment and internships she has become a talented project manager and grant writer and her professors and employers have described her as a strong student, collaborator, and natural leader.

Micalah Spenrath 

Master's Degree Student Environmental Engineering

 Stanford University

2019 Recipients 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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