By Jackie Torok
Senior chemistry student Tanae Lewis of Youngsville, North Carolina, has made history as North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s first Goldwater Scholar to also be named an Astronaut Scholar – the first from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) to achieve this dual recognition.
As a 2022 Astronaut Scholar, Lewis will receive up to $15,000 for eligible educational expenses, a paid trip to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s Innovators Week & Gala in Florida, Aug. 24-27, and lifelong engagement with astronauts and STEM researchers and innovators, Astronaut Scholar alumni, and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).
“We are pleased that Tanae Lewis’ talent and intellect have been recognized by the Goldwater and Astronaut Scholarship foundations,” said Interim Provost Tonya Smith-Jackson, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This is an amazing accomplishment by an amazing student. This scholarship supports her ongoing journey toward excellence.”
While pursuing her B.S. in chemistry, Lewis serves as a peer mentor and Aggie Student Success leader in the College of Science and Technology (CoST)’s Department of Chemistry and vice president of the N.C. A&T Chemistry Club. She is a 2019-21 SciTech Scholar in CoST, as well as a Department of Chemistry scholarship recipient and an Aggie Gentz Scholarship recipient for 2019-22. She also has been named to A&T’s Chancellor’s List, which recognizes full-time students who earn at least a 3.75 GPA in at least 12 hours or more of semester credit, since 2019, is a member of the Science and Math National Honor Society, and was initiated in April 2022 into The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.
This summer, Lewis completed a research internship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine visualizing protein expression in primary cilia and analyzing how primary cilia interact with different cells in the body. She previously worked at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, in a yearlong research internship studying how the disruption of RNA processing pathways can lead to neurodevelopmental disease. She has been mentored by Angela White, Ph.D., assistant dean of CoST and director of the SciTech Scholars program, and Tanya Malloy, Ph.D., teaching associate professor of chemistry.
“As a Black woman in chemistry and future leader in the STEM world conducting neurodegenerative research on Alzheimer’s and other diseases, I am sensitive to the challenges that ethnic minorities face in academia. I value the education and mentors who promote an atmosphere of inclusion and grant all students access to the tools needed to be successful in their careers,” said Lewis. “Dr. Bernard Harris broke the ceiling by being the first Black American to perform a spacewalk and is helping ensure that all students – especially Black Americans – have access to high-quality STEM education. I can contribute to the diversity of the biomedical sciences profession by creating a unique voice and perspective while improving an environment that invites more underrepresented minorities to work in this field.”
Lewis is one of 16 people from A&T who have received the Astronaut Scholarship, bringing the total number of awards and renewals to 18 since A&T became the first HBCU to be an ASF Partnering Institution in 1994.
“For three years, Tanae has worked tirelessly to mature into a well-rounded scholar and researcher. Her advanced skills and passion for learning have earned her recognition at the university and national levels,” said Malloy. “However, none of these compare to the satisfaction she gains from sharing her knowledge and talents with those she encounters. Tanae’s commitment to lifelong learning combined with her willingness to take risks leads me to believe there will be no limit to her growth and achievements in academia and beyond.”
The Astronaut Scholarship, created in 1984 by the surviving Mercury 7 astronauts and administered by the ASF, provides more than 60 scholarships annually to the most academically accomplished undergraduate second- and third-year students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who are intent on pursuing research or advancing their fields upon graduation. This year, 68 Astronaut Scholarships were awarded to students representing 45 universities across the nation.
“Tanae’s commitment to excellence as a student scholar continues to impress,” said Alsace-Lorraine Gallop, A&T’s National Scholarships and Fellowships Coordinator and Fulbright Program adviser. “I am thrilled she will have access to the intellectual and tangible resources of both the Goldwater and Astronaut Scholarship Foundations to help her effort to serve both her family and humanity through her research.”
Lewis and third-year bioengineering University Honors Program (UHP) student Kristi Barnes were endorsed to apply for the 2022 Astronaut Scholarship through NCAT Extraordinary Opportunities (NCAT EO) after campus review. Fourth-year UHP student Beverly Hughes was selected by the campus committee as an alternate endorsee.
This year’s campus committee included Kelvin Bryant, Ph.D., associate computer science professor; Daniel Limbrick, Ph.D., associate electrical and computer engineering professor; and Juanda Johnson-Taylor, interim director of the North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation STEM Pathways and Research Alliance.