In February, the Department of Chemistry celebrated the dedication of an American Chemical Society (ACS) National Historic Chemical Landmark in honor of Illinois alumnus St. Elmo Brady, who, in 1916, became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.
Central to the celebration were representatives from Tougaloo College, Howard University, Fisk University, and Tuskegee University—four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) whose chemistry programs Brady founded after he left Illinois.
To strengthen that shared legacy, the department recently established the St. Elmo Brady Scholars Program, which provides summer research opportunities at Illinois for undergraduates from Tougaloo, Howard, Fisk, and Tuskegee.
The first installation of the Brady Scholars program took place this summer, supported by a generous gift from Dow Chemical and the Graduate College’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP).
Enleyona Weir, from Tougaloo College in Mississippi, was the first Brady Scholar.
Originally from Portland, Jamaica, Weir is a rising junior Presidential Scholar completing a dual degree in chemistry and mathematics. She intends to pursue a career in pharmacology.
Weir first learned of research opportunities at Illinois while she was on campus in February for the ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark dedication in honor of Brady. She credits department head Martin Gruebele and assistant director of graduate diversity and program climate, Dr. Lloyd Munjanja, for providing her with the opportunity to return as a Brady Scholar.
During the summer, she conducted research in Professor Paul Hergenrother’s group, where she focused on synthesizing a diverse group of complex compounds from the natural product Stevioside.
“As a future pharmacologist, having the opportunity to synthesize prospective compounds that could be used as potential drugs for different areas of diseases was amazing,” said Weir. “I am truly confident that I am one step closer to my future goals and career field.”
The program also provided an important networking component for Weir, and she is grateful for the personal support she received during her summer experience.
“Over the ten weeks, I was able to build strong friendships and professional relationships. This experience has had a lasting impression not only on my personality and social relationships but also on my academic endeavors. This would not have been an amazing summer if it was not for my P.I., Dr. Paul Hergenrother and my postdoc mentor, Dr. Maryam Ghavami. Thank you, guys, for giving me the experience of a lifetime and skills that I will invest in.”
Munjanja was instrumental in developing the new partnership and looks forward to its continued success and growth.
“We are grateful for St. Elmo Brady for paving the way for such a natural collaboration between Illinois and the chemistry departments he created at the four HBCUs,” he said. “This partnership comes at a crucial moment in the department as we are ramping up efforts to increase the enrollment and retention of black scholars in our PhD program. We understand that diverse talent is a strategic asset that allows for more effective research and teaching.”