BURUNDI – The star chemist

Growing up in Bujumbura, Burundi, Mireille Kamariza didn’t know any astronomers, or any scientists at all for that matter. But she adored planets anyway. At the start of every school year, she and her fellow students would wrap up their notebooks to protect them from wear. And every year, Kamariza hunted her town for magazines with glossy pictures of planets, astronauts, and “any news about astronomy.” Between classes, she stared at those astronomical covers like they were portals to a fantastical world.

The Junior Fellow never ended up floating among the stars, at least not in a literal sense. This August, Chemical & Engineering News named her one of its Talented 12 for her invention of a quick, low-cost test to detect tuberculosis. In 2017, Fortune magazine named her one of the World’s Most Powerful Women while she was still a graduate student. In 2018, she earned an even rarer title: co-founder of a company in the male-dominated biotech industry. In a way, the world she now inhabits — that of an award-winning scientist, Silicon Valley biotech entrepreneur, degree recipient from the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University — was a fantastical world, at least to that young girl in Burundi who got lost in pictures of Mars and Venus.

“It feels like a different life,” Kamariza said, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m one of the few that was able to make that jump.”

After achieving the fantastical, Kamariza is tackling a very real problem: Throughout the developing world, including Burundi, tuberculosis is one of the top causes of death. In 2018, the disease killed 1.5 million worldwide, far more than even AIDS. Though testing and treatment are on the rise, low-income, rural populations still struggle to detect and contain the disease (especially now that COVID-19 diagnostics are prioritized over every other infectious disease). Each year, about 10 million people develop tuberculosis and about 3 million go undetected, Kamariza said. Her invention — a portable diagnostic tool — could help identify more cases faster, anywhere in the world, to prevent further spread, get treatment to those in need, and even monitor the effectiveness of that treatment. “A lot of people doing TB work were rewired to do COVID work. TB patients are being left behind.” — Mireille Kamariza, Junior Fellow

When Kamariza arrived in the U.S., settling in San Diego at age 17, science was still an alien thing. She spoke French but little English (she watched “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” to learn more); she shared a studio apartment with her two older brothers and worked part-time at Safeway while taking classes full-time at San Diego Mesa College. There, she left her love of planets behind: “How many astronauts do you know that started at a community college?” she said.

By chance, she enrolled in a chemistry course with Professor Saloua Saidane, who happened to speak French. She guided Kamariza over the language barrier before pushing her to transfer to the University of California, San Diego. Kamariza needed the encouragement: Other mentors told her, bluntly, that her English and G.P.A. were too poor for her to make it to UCSD. They were wrong.

Once at UCSD, Kamariza again doubted her ability to make it to graduate school. But Tracy Johnson — another chemist and the first Black woman scientist Kamariza encountered — pushed her to apply to the University of California, Berkeley. “I would never make it to UC Berkeley in a million years!” Kamariza said to Johnson. “Look at all the people who make it in. How many are African immigrants?”

Kamariza often credits external interventions like miracles, luck, and mentors for her success. “For immigrants, for people who come from backgrounds that are traditionally underserved,” she said, “it’s all about opportunities and it’s about who can open the door for you.” Still, though Johnson showed her the door, Kamariza knocked. To her surprise (but not Johnson’s), she got in.

At Berkeley, Kamariza joined Carolyn Bertozzi’s chemical biology lab. There, and continuing at Stanford University, she combined her knowledge of chemistry and molecular biology to eventually invent her tuberculosis diagnostic. Her test turned what used to be an 11-step process into one simple step. “Because it’s stable and because it doesn’t require a fridge to work,” Kamariza said, “you could in principle do this experiment anywhere. You could be in the tundra of Alaska or the desert of Namibia and do it.” MORE

This is what a scientist looks like

The idea is simple: Students who see themselves in science are more likely to imagine themselves working in the field.

To that end, a project called “I Am A Scientist” is giving middle and high school students the opportunity to interact with modern-day researchers — breaking down barriers like race, gender, and personal interests. It provides teachers with toolkits containing stories, posters, and career resources showcasing 22 scientists’ range of personalities, backgrounds, pathways, and passions. Many of those portrayed have Harvard connections. MORE

Why did I move to Ghana?

Ever since I relocated from Boston to Ghana in 2016, I regularly get asked a variation on the following question: “Why did you uproot your life and promising career path in the US and move on your own to Africa? You got your Ph.D. from MIT — I’m sure you must have had other options.”

The short answer is “Well, it certainly wasn’t my plan from the beginning! I knew embarrassingly little about Africa beforehand. I was getting attention around my work (My Ph.D. research is on exhibit at the MIT Museum– do visit if you’re in Boston!), and I did have job offers. But God challenged me to adopt a new framework for viewing the world and my role in it.”

The longer answer is multi-faceted, drawing from many aspects of my life experiences, and it continues to evolve along with the weaving of my life story. I can point to 4 main stages in my journey to/through/with Africa so far, and I’d love to take you through each of them. MORE

Deborah Washington Brown, the first Black woman to earn an applied math Ph.D. at Harvard, passed away June 5

Humble and soft-spoken, Deborah Washington Brown would never have described herself as a trailblazer.

But as the first Black woman to graduate from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1981 with a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, she shattered the racial and gender barriers that still plague technology fields today. 

Brown was the first Black computer scientist to earn a Ph.D. in the applied mathematics program at  Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences , and also one of the first Black, female computer scientists to graduate from a U.S. doctoral program. MORE

FRANCE – Elisabeth Moreno, ministre de l’Égalité femmes-hommes

Nouvelle figure du gouvernement Castex, Elisabeth Moreno est désormais la ministre déléguée en charge de l’Egalité hommes-femmes. Cette patronne de la tech au parcours inspirant a vécu de lourdes épreuves, mais a gravi les échelons dans le milieu des entreprises technologiques. Elle s’apprête à entrer par la grande porte, rue Saint-Dominique.

Issue du milieu de la tech et directrice générale Afrique du groupe HP (Hewlett-Packard) depuis janvier 2019, Elisabeth Moreno était jusqu’à présent inconnue au bataillon. Plus jeune, elle se rêvait avocate et n’était donc pas prédestinée a faire carrière en politique. Pourtant c’est bien à Elisabeth Moreno que Marlène Schiappa a passé le flambeau de ministre déléguée chargée de l’Égalité femmes-hommes, de la diversité et de l’égalité des chances. Ce nouveau chapitre qui s’ouvre pour la Franco-cap-verdienne de 49 ans s’inscrit dans la continuité d’un parcours brillant. 
Elisabeth Moreno a évolué dans le domaine scientifique et technologique, très souvent entourée de figures masculines et confrontée au sexisme. Une expérience que la nouvelle ministre déléguée en charge de l’Egalité femmes-hommes pourrait mettre à profit pour son portefeuille.

Elisabeth Moreno : le cœur au Cap-Vert, l’Hexagone comme nouveau départ 

Née en 1970 à Terrafal, au Cap-Vert, c’est à l’âge de 6 ans qu’Elisabeth Moreno s’installe en France, accompagnée de ses parents et ses 5 petits frères et sœurs.   

Fille d’un maçon et d’une femme de ménage, l’aînée veille très souvent sur sa fratrie et travaille bien à l’école. À son arrivée, elle ne connait pas un mot de français, mais apprend rapidement la langue de Molière. SUITE

‘We Were Curiosities’: One Of ‘The Last Negroes At Harvard’ Shares His Story

Kent Garrett Sr., 97, still remembers how proud and happy he was when his son was admitted to Harvard in 1959. “I invited everybody over for dinner,” he recalls with a laugh.

Garrett was a subway motorman who worked a second job waxing floors. His son, also named Kent Garrett, was among an unprecedented group of 18 black students accepted into the class of 1963.

Garrett chronicles what that time was like for him and his fellow black classmates in the new book The Last Negroes at Harvard, co-authored with his partner, Jeanne Ellsworth. MORE

First Black woman to graduate from MIT with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering

Mareena Robinson Snowden, is the first Black woman to graduate from MIT with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering

Black girl magic was in full effect earlier this month when Mareena Robinson Snowden, became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from MIT in Nuclear Engineering. Snowden’s dissertation focused on the development of radiation detectors for future nuclear arms control treaties. According to her personal website, she is a native of Miami and earned a B.S. in Physics from the illustrious Florida A&M University. Snowden took to her Instagram to share some of her thoughts on her achievement:

“No one can tell me God isn’t. Grateful is the best word I have to describe how I feel. Grateful for every part of this experience – highs and lows. Every person who supported me and those who didn’t. Grateful for a praying family, a husband who took on this challenge as his own, sisters who reminded me at every stage how powerful I am, friends who inspired me to fight harder. Grateful for the professors who fought for and against me. Every experience on this journey was necessary, and I’m better for it.” MORE

Meet Wesley Lainé, Sciences Po Law School and @Harvard_Law graduate.

From Haïti to America to Sciences Po

I was born and grew up in Port-au-Prince in Haiti. I had the opportunity to pursue my studies in the United States, and after having obtained my bachelor’s in political science and then a master’s international politics, I decided to apply to the school that I had dreamt of attending as a child: Sciences Po.

All the Africans on the 2019 ‘TIME 100 Next’ list

The new TIME 100 Next list features rising stars from all over the world shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, science, health and other sectors.

“Although this focus lends itself to a younger group, we intentionally had no age cap — a recognition that ascents can begin at any age. The TIME 100 Next members all have grand ambitions, and they know they may face even greater setbacks. But by and large, ‘they are driven by hope.’ They are eager to defy the odds — and fight for a better future,” the magazine says.

The 2019 list pays homage to eight people from Africa. They are: MORE


PORTRAIT (Togo) – Harvard Kennedy School: A Vision in Togo: Cina Lawson MPP 2001 uses technology to transform financial inclusion and internet access in this West African nation

2019 Recipient Public Service Award

CINA LAWSON MPP 2001 FIRST MET the president of Togo when he visited New York for the United Nations General Assembly in 2009. She was working in Manhattan, developing data infrastructure services for Orange Business Services’ public- and private-sector clients, and the two discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the telecom sector in West Africa.

When President Faure Gnassingbé was reelected in 2010, he remembered their conversation and asked Lawson to join his government as the minister of posts, digital economy, and technological innovation. Since assuming that position, she has significantly expanded access to both the internet and financial services in Togo.