Feeding Others, Nourishing Self

Ben Morrow is a self-described nontraditional student. Some of his peers in the classroom might have mistaken him for the professor at one time or another, but he doesn’t mind. He is glad to be back on campus, and glad to have discovered such a meaningful purpose for this stage in his life.

Ben Morrow CroppedMorrow completed his undergraduate work in Industrial and Systems Engineering at N.C. A&T in the 1990s. He enjoyed a vibrant, 24-year career at IBM during which time he completed his master’s degree at NC State. After a stint with computer manufacturer Lenovo, Morrow elected to hang-up his private industry hat in 2016 and begin a self-discovery process to discern next steps.

Morrow crossed paths with Dr. Sanjiv Sarin, one of Morrow’s former professors, and the current Interim Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at A&T. Sarin has been at N.C. A&T for 35 years, and prior to his current appointment, he served as the Dean of the Graduate College and Vice Provost for Research, Graduate Programs and Extended Learning. It was during this period of time when he and Morrow reconnected.

As Morrow was exploring different ways he could “give back” in this post-industry stage of his career, Sarin suggested he consider pursuing a doctoral degree and enter the teaching field. “The thought had not occurred to me,” admits Morrow, “But since our first acquaintance decades ago, Dr. Sarin has always seen things in me I couldn’t see, and pushed me to consider unusual paths. I decided to pursue it, figuring if there were other signs along the way that supported this option, I would have my answer.”

Ben Morrow had not only Dr. Sarin’s support, but received evidence of the university’s support as well. Morrow was selected into the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Program, dedicated to advancing African American doctoral leadership. The fellowship, funded through a Title III HBGI grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is awarded competitively to native Black American students pursuing Ph.D. degrees in engineering, and consists of a stipend plus tuition, fees, and health insurance benefits. This support enabled Morrow to return to the classroom and eventually, the laboratory.

After enrolling for the second time at N.C. A&T, Morrow set out to choose an area of research within the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s doctoral program. Seeking to build off of his ongoing involvement with Greensboro Urban Ministry, Morrow was drawn to a project studying food aid supply chains using big data analytics. Principal Investigator Dr. Lauren Davis and her cross-disciplinary team is two years into a five-year, $3 million grant through the National Science Foundation’s Research Traineeship (NRT) Program. The NRT grant, of which PhD student Ben Morrow is now a part, supports food insecurity research in a project called Improving Strategies for Hunger Relief and Food Security Using Computational Data Science.

Food insecurity occurs when individuals have limited access to safe and nutritious food. To address this issue, humanitarian organizations work collaboratively with government and the private sector, relying on uncertain sources of supply, responding to uneven and variable needs, and making decisions regarding scarce resources. During this process, data is generated on a massive scale concerning food supply, distribution and need. Dr. Davis and her students, including Morrow, are working to develop an innovative, interdisciplinary training model in data science to help organizations better analyze their efforts and improve the provision of food aid at the local, state, and federal level.

Morrow is specifically interesting in the efficiency contrast between “traditional” and “client-choice” food pantries. Traditional food pantries provide clients pre-selected foods from available food inventory.  Historically, traditional food pantries have experienced overstocking of certain foods, which in turn contributes to increased food waste and negative psychological effects on clients.  On the other hand, client-choice food pantries operate like grocery stores; they allow clients to choose which foods they will take home. Morrow expects his research will chow that client-choice food pantries probably experience less overstocking, reduced food waste, and a positive psychological boosts for clients. Morrow hopes the ability to model and predict food waste will enable communities to evaluate the merits of a client-based food pantry versus a traditional food pantry easing their transition should they decide to change.

Morrow married his high school sweetheart and has two grown children and 4 grandchildren. Now that the kids are out of the house, he has time to consider a new career. Asked about whether he saw additional classroom time and possible teaching in his future, Morrow concedes he is not surprised by how things are turning out. “My career in industry prepared me for this moment. There are parallels between the private and nonprofit sectors when you have goals of efficiency, cost control and inventory management. Now, I get to use this second chapter in my career to work towards solutions that really help people.”


N.C. A&T Doctoral Student Attends Heidelberg Laureate Forum in Germany

N.C. A&T saw its first doctoral student participate in the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), hosted this past September in Heidelberg, Germany. Janelle Mason, a native of Charlottesville, Virginia received her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from A&T, and is in her third year of a doctoral program in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering. Mason’s doctoral advisor is Dr. Albert Esterline, and her committee members include Drs. Xiaohong (Dorothy) Yuan, Mohd Anwar, Kaushik Roy and Gina Bullock.

HeidelbergThe HLF is a global networking conference, where 200 carefully-selected student researchers from universities around the world, studying mathematics and computer science, spend a week interacting with “laureates”, the numerous career professionals who have received the most prestigious awards in mathematics and computer science (the Abel Prize, the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the ACM Prize in Computing, the Fields Medal and the Nevanlinna Prize).

The week-long program blended both scientific and social program elements, and was designed to initiate exchange among the participants, young and old. The laureates gave lectures on subjects of their choosing, which were primarily directed at the young researchers who were participating. Those lectures were the starting point of intense discussions between the laureates and the young researchers, seeking to motivate and inspire the next generation of researchers in their respective disciplines (computer science and mathematics).

“This was a phenomenal life-changing experience!” admits Mason. “I was honored to be selected to attend this renowned event. When I arrived and met the other members of my cohort, and the laureates, I knew this experience would affect the trajectory of my research and scholarship.” Mason’s doctoral work includes a computational framework for identity in the interdisciplinary fields of cybersecurity and criminal justice. She is using biometric information, such as fingerprints and blood markers in addition to camera footage and witness testimony, to discover the probability of proximity and potential culprit(s) involvement in a crime.


Exposing Students to High-Frequency Data Science

Dr. Manoj Jha, an associate professor in A&T’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, has teamed with researchers from Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt University to expose students to real world high-frequency data. The data, primarily environmental in nature, will be collected in real time at labs on the Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt campuses and shared with students in their coursework.

“Data is a dominant feature in any curriculum, but exposure to real-world, real time data, such as is collected during a weather event, is another matter altogether,” explains Jha. “Our students will gain exposure to immediate real-time information which will help them develop urgency in their decision making processes which is so useful in today’s world.”

This NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education research project, inspired by a recent National Academy of Sciences report on Data Science for Undergraduates, is a collaborative effort among investigators at the three universities. This unique effort aims to improve data science-related learning outcomes of students representing a variety of majors including engineering, computer science, environmental science and biology.

Two unique, high-frequency data monitoring labs – Virginia Tech’s Learning Enhanced Watershed Assessment System Lab and Vanderbilt’s Smart City Lab, are the key entities that will support the proposed data science-related intervention in various courses and the related STEM learning research activities.

An interdisciplinary project team including faculty and graduate students focused in STEM education research and curriculum design, hydrology and water resources, computer science, ecology, and environmental science will work together closely to accomplish the project’s three goals:

  1. Integrating real-world data into eight relevant STEM courses at all three institutions
  2. Conducting research on student learning across various disciplines, institutions, gender, ethnicity, and academic settings
  3. Developing and implementing a learning module portability plan to broaden the breadth of the impact of this project beyond the partnering universities


Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium Earns High Marks

A&T’s Alumni-Foundation Event Center was the setting for yet another successful undergraduate research symposium. Each fall and spring, undergraduate students who are pursuing research, accompanied by their faculty mentors, gather for a poster competition, oral presentations, keynote address and research-oriented workshops. This fall’s symposium also featured a real-time research survey exercise to measure student screen time habits over a 24-hour period.

Around 100 students attended the event, representing research initiatives across all N.C. A&T Colleges. Emeka Anazia, N.C. A&T alumnus, presented the keynote address, inspiring students to achieve academic success through his program Acing the Undergrad. “Our fall event sets the stage for the year’s research,” explains Lando Little, the event’s coordinator. “It is a great indicator of student research involvement for the academic year, and we are pleased to see our highest participation levels in the history of the symposia.”


N.C. A&T Student Takes Second Place at SHARE Conference Hackathon

Akeem Brooks, a junior in N.C. A&T’s College of Science and Technology, finished in second-place at the SHARE Conference’s Hackathon Challenge held in Providence, Rhode Island in August 2017. The challenge featured 16 different programming “challenges” with participants working alone under a two-hour deadline. Brooks, his faculty mentor Dr. Cameron Seay, and five additional N.C. A&T students attended the conference and competed in the Hackathon Challenge.

In addition to the programming competition, the SHARE Conference features an exposition, networking opportunities, as well as keynote addresses and roundtables addressing the trends facing the mainframe computing industry. Hundreds of employees from across the nation attend the SHARE Conference to attend technical sessions and to hear about the future of the mainframe.

SHARE is an independent volunteer-run information technology association that provides education, professional networking and industry influence. It began as the first-ever enterprise IT user group back in 1955, and continues to deliver important avenues of professional growth for the mainframe computing industry today.

N.C. A&T’s College of Science and Technology is the intellectual and academic core of STEM education, research, and discovery at the university. The College has approximately 1300 undergraduate and 300 graduate students within nine departments.  Its academic departments are Applied Engineering Technology, Biology, Built Environment, Chemistry, Computer Systems Technology, Energy and Environmental Systems, Graphic Design Technology, Mathematics, and Physics.


A&T Undergrads Participate in Summer Research and Internships at Prestigious Locations

A&T undergraduates conducted research at University of California, Irvine during their summer break. Kamaria Bush is a rising junior biology student at N.C. A&T. At UCI, she conducted research in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology under the lab of Dr. Cascade Sorte, studying the efforts of climate change on intertidal organisms. Evans Pardue is a junior biology major, minoring in philosophy and physics.  At UCI, he conducted research with Dr. Laurence Muller at the Ayala School of Biological Sciences, and his research focused on the analysis of the Smurf phenotype as a potential harbinger of death among Drosophila cohorts. Natasha McMasters is a senior biological engineering student with a concentration in bioprocess engineering. She worked with Dr. Manny Azizi and Jordan Balaban at UCI on a research project that examines the Temperature Efforts on Muscle Biology and Locomotion in Fence Lizards. Adiya Moore is a junior biology student. She worked with Dr. Adriana Briscoe under the mentorship of Aide Macias-Munoz on gene duplication and expression, and cis-regulation within Heliconius Melpomene butterflies. Cameron Hopkins-Harrington is a second-year biology master’s student worked with Dr. Adam Synechococcus in the Indian Ocean.

The Leadership Alliance is a national consortium of more than 30 leading research and teaching colleges, universities, and private industry with a goal to train, mentor, and to inspire a diverse group of students from a wide range of cultural and academic backgrounds into competitive graduate training programs and professional research-based careers. This past summer four N.C A&T students participated in research experiences at various universities through The Leadership Alliance. Mary Omotoso, junior, bioengineering major, conducted research at Stanford University in the Material Science Department with Dr. Sarah Heilshorn as her faculty mentor. Her research involved upscaling the production of intestinal organoids for drug testing. Mary worked on developing sacrificial scaffolds which included making CAD drawings, 3-D printing, and preparing the printing components. Asha McElroy, sophomore, nutrition major, conducted research at Howard University in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. Her research involved neurological tracing and the effects on the brain.  Joshua McDuffie, sophomore, civil engineering major, conducted research at Brown University under the mentorship of Dr. Karen Fischer who studies the structure and dynamics of Earth’s interior. Oluwatomi Ladipo, junior, bioengineering major, conducted research at New York University.

Through the Office of Undergraduate Research, seven undergraduate students were selected to complete an internship at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida this past summer. The students represented the College of Engineering and the College of Business and Economics. Undergraduate students Javier Brown, Avery Harris, Gabriel Jenkins, Destiny McElroy, Jonathan Perry, Chanise Taylor, and John Wilson, held various positions in: Information and Configuration Management, Meeting and Board Support, Operations and Test Management (OTM), Program Logistics Engineering, Systems Engineering & Integration, Program Logistics Engineering, Project Management, Software Engineering and Project Management, Systems Engineering & Integration.

Undergraduate students represented N.C. A&T in the NRL HBCU/MSI Undergraduate Internship Program. This program is a highly-selective, premier program that attracts the best and brightest students from across the nation. Only 34 students were selected and five students hailed from N.C. A&T. The student interns were Sakilae White, sophomore, chemistry student from Phoenix, Arizona; Rayonna Gordon, senior, bioengineering student from Richmond, VA; Kwame Simmons, senior, mechanical engineering student from Christiansted, St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands, Jasmine Flowers, sophomore, chemistry student from Raleigh, NC and Isata Barrie, senior, chemical engineering student from Lanham, Maryland.

RTI International internship places premium on creating opportunities for hands-on experience and engaged learning. Kierra Jenkins conducted research with the School Services team within the Education and Workforce Development unit at RTI International. During the summer, she researched trends, wrote literature reviews, conducted interviews, supported peer networking events, and completed a Year One report.  Kierra is a senior and works as an undergraduate researcher in the Collective Health and Education Equity Research (CHEER) laboratory on campus.

Erica Robinson interned with Davidson College as a lab assistant in the Davidson Research Initiative (DRI) Summer Research Program. Erica worked in Dr. Sockol’s Mood, Attitudes and Parenting Lab. She conducted literature reviews on eating disorders and related symptoms among college students. Erica’s research will contribute to Dr. Sockol’s further investigation of college students’ eating behaviors and attitudes. Erica will present her research at the Davidson College Fall Research Symposium in September. Erica is a sophomore biology major with goals to pursuing a master’s degree in psychology and then a M.D. degree.


Amirah Burton Discusses SOLAR Program

amirah-burtonN.C. A&T master’s student Amirah Burton hails her summer research experience at Chapel Hill as one of the greatest decisions she has ever made. Burton was chosen to represent A&T last summer in the UNC SOLAR program, which stands for Summer of Learning and Research. It’s a 10-week program for underrepresented college students from across the nation wanting to participate in biological and biomedical research, for which Chapel Hill is known.

Burton served under Dr. Jean Cook, a UNC-CH researcher and associate professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department. Dr. Cook is also the Associate Dean for Graduate Education at UNC-CH. Cook’s lab focuses on studying cell activities such as growth, duplication and division as they relate to cancer. “It was great being part of such important work,” explains Burton. “I benefited from understanding the processes and techniques that occur daily in a lab setting. Dr. Cook’s lab was truly impressive and I got a very accurate idea of what a world-class research lab offers students. It was a great experience.” Burton, a native of Greenwood, South Carolina, wants to get her PhD in Nutrition; she is interested in studying how nutrition impacts the human body, including the role of various foods in the prevention or formation of disease.

In addition to enjoying the daily lab experience, program participants prepare for grad school entrance exams, present in a final poster forum, and enjoy weekly journal clubs and social interactions with other students from across the country. For N.C. A&T students who are interested in the UNC SOLAR program, she says, “Be ready to work, be confident in your academic strengths yet willing to learn and absorb from those around you, and network while you’re there because the weeks really fly by!”


Undergraduate Researchers and Faculty Participate in CareerLink Workshop

oak-ridge-tripSeventeen undergraduate researchers from N.C. A&T and their sponsors traveled to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for a full day of networking and workshops. The program, CareerLink, served both student and faculty researchers with concurrent programming tracks.

The undergraduate students had an extensive facility tour as well as ample networking time with peers from across the country and ORNL researchers. Student programming focused on writing a competitive employment application in the technical research field, choosing a research area of interest and learning how to best convey laboratory skills and competence in a written resume.

The faculty and staff in attendance (Dr. Christopher Doss, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Dr. Kenneth Flurchick, associate professor in the Department of Computational Science and Engineering; Mr. Paul Tuttle, director of proposal development within the Division of Research and Economic Development) were given technical guidance on how to collaborate effectively with ORNL researchers based on shared research interests. Each faculty member was assigned an ORNL mentor to work with in the coming months to select ideal research topics for collaborative pursuit.

This ORNL-sponsored career development opportunity is one of many available to both students and staff who are interested in pursuing research opportunities during their time studying and/or working at N.C. A&T.