FAMU Professor Thomas Sawicki, Ph.D., explores the three cave systems in Central Florida â€“ Wekiwa Springs, Volusia Blue Spring and De Leon Springs.
Cover Photo by: Andrew Long Above Photo by: Andrew Long
SPRING2018 TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF ECO LEADERS Students Explore the Mississippi Gulf Coast as Part of Major NOAA Grant
COVER STORY: DETERMINED TO DISCOVER Documenting New Species in the Heart of Florida
JOURNEY TO MARS FAMU Serves as Pathway to NASA, Space Exploration Research
RX Groundbreaking Research Makes Strides Toward Effective Natural Cancer Treatment
BROOKSVILLE FAMU Prepares for New Era of High-Impact Agricultural Research
FUNDING THE FUTURE Title III Programs Open Doors for New Innovators
UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT Larry Robinson, Ph.D. EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR COMMUNICATIONS Kathy Y. Times EXECUTIVE EDITOR Kanya Stewart COPY EDITORS Ron Hartung Sabrina Thompson LAYOUT AND DESIGN Charles R. Collins III STAFF WRITERS Domonique Davis Shandra Hill Smith Aaliyah Wilkerson Veronique George Pam Berry-Johnson Andrine Stanhope PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY Adam VL Taylor ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY Mark Long Kristi Bernot Vaughn Wilson Pam Berry-Johnson Billy Howard FAMU-FSU College of Engineering EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT Tawanda Finley ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Lawana Clark
RESEARCHERS OF THE YEAR Meet FAMU’s Leading Scientists
TECH U Developing App Innovators on the “Hill”
ORGANIC BEAUTY Infused with Love
EVENTS, MARKETING, ADVERTISING Drew Berry Vernon Bryant Brion Eason EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Chelsie Lane Katherine Brinkley-Broomfield Tenae Taylor Qwontanney Major Mariah Brown FOR MORE INFORMATION (850) 599-3413
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04 President’s Message 05 Editor’s Letter
The A&M Magazine is the official magazine of Florida A&M University, and is designed to inform alumni, supporters, and friends about issues of importance about the University. This public document was promulgated at a total cost of $4,538.86 or $. 91per copy. FAMU is an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access University.
Greetings, Rattlers and Supporters: Thank you for helping kick off Florida A&M University’s 130th anniversary during our 2017 Homecoming festivities. As we continue to celebrate this milestone by noting the outstanding accomplishments of Rattlers past and present, we thought it was particularly important to highlight the brilliance of our faculty, students and staff by focusing on research in this special edition of A&M Magazine. FAMU is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 HBCU for research and development by the National Science Foundation. FAMU has a rich history of innovation and discovery that extends from agriculture to renewable energy and from coastal and marine ecosystems to space exploration. FAMU has positioned itself as a leader in solving global problems and empowering our citizens and communities with new knowledge. This has been achieved through partnerships, programs and grant opportunities with the private sector, local and state agencies, and federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On the pages that follow, you will learn that one of the fundamental aspects of the FAMU research enterprise is our commitment to developing students and preparing the next generation of innovators and problem solvers. This issue highlights some of our accomplishments and the many other ways we are making a difference in the prestigious category of “R2: Doctoral Universities – Higher Research Activity,” according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. As a scientist and professor in the School of the Environment, I have witnessed firsthand the impact FAMU’s research community has on our city, state and nation. This issue will give you a closer glimpse into the creativity and excellence that occurs in our laboratories, workspaces, field sites and classrooms every day.
Yours in Service,
Larry Robinson, Ph.D. President
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Dear FAMUans and Friends: Thank you for your continued support of the award-winning A&M Magazine. Florida A&M University is nationally recognized as one of the most culturally and intellectually diverse campuses. At the heart of that diversity are the members of FAMU’s research faculty and the students who assist them in their research activities. In this issue, we are proud to bring you along on the University’s continuous journey to “Explore the Depths of Discovery.” Our researchers and students represent the gamut of national origins, colors and creeds, and, since its founding in 1887, FAMU has remained committed to preparing its diverse array of graduates to apply their knowledge, critical thinking skills and creativity in service to society. Through its unique research programs, FAMU brings together students from all walks of life with faculty researchers from assorted disciplines and empowers them to emerge as leading scientists and innovators, in turn making our nation and our world stronger and better. Each story in this special edition not only reflects that commitment but also demonstrates how FAMU has continued to create pathways for bright young minds to follow their dreams while helping to improve the lives of others through their work in a lab, in field study or in a creator’s space. Stories like “Training the Next Generation of Eco Leaders,” “Title III Programs Open Doors for New Innovators” and “Developing App Innovators on the ‘Hill’” demonstrate how FAMU is leveraging its unique research enterprise to fulfill its historic land-grant mission to utilize innovative exploration to teach and reach others through life-changing advancements. I am confident that this issue will not only intrigue you but also inspire you to continue to support FAMU for another 130 years.
With Rattler Regards,
Kanya Stewart Executive Editor
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR The A&M Magazine welcomes letters to the editor about stories in its issues. We reserve the right to edit emails and letters for clarity or length. Emails may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org or letters may be mailed to the Office of Communications, Florida A&M University, 1601 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite 200 Lee Hall, Tallahassee, Florida 32307-3100. A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 5
BY [Pam Berry-Johnson]
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Students Explore the Mississippi Gulf Coast as Part of Major NOAA Grant 5The NOAA grant provides unique opportunities
hen Alexis Hamilton first laid eyes on lush, uninhabited Deer Island just 500 yards off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she was struck by its size.
“It was smaller than I’d expected,” said Hamilton, a Florida A&M University sophomore who is studying environmental science. “I know they told us it was 4 miles, but it is a very small piece of undeveloped land. I was happy to hear how they are working so hard to get it back up on its feet.” The small coastal preserve – which includes wildlife, sandy beaches, pine-filled woods and marshes – plays an important role as a natural barrier to storms along the Gulf Coast. And as environmentalists push to ensure a healthy balance between ecotourism and preservation in places like Deer Island, they also recognize the equal importance of training the next generation who’ll continue their efforts. For more than two decades, FAMU has been at the forefront of that training effort. It is providing leadership and best practices in environmental science to other universities across the country and developing student researchers focused on solving ocean and coastal environmental woes ranging from severe erosion and excessive ecotourism to groundwater discharge and natural disasters. In fall 2017, a dozen FAMU student researchers and their professors visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast to take their classroom lessons into the field and connect with their colleagues at partner institutions. The student researchers are part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Educational Partnership Program initiative called the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, which was established in 2016 through a $15.4
for students to learn from environmental leaders.
million grant. FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., a highly respected environmental scientist, is leading the center. The partnership program, which engages minority-serving institutions, also includes Bethune-Cookman University, California State University–Monterey Bay, Jackson State University, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, and the University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley. The coastal and marine research trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast included places like Gautier and Ocean Springs. Sharmini Pitter, Ph.D., FAMU’s assistant director of the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, said it was the first opportunity for all of the institutions’ researchers and students to come together as a group. She explained that a key component of the program is giving students the opportunity to discover and develop together. Along with the trip to Deer Island to study the salt marshes and a shoreline restoration project, the exploration also included classroom lectures and workshops, and an outing to the Ocean Springs Inner Harbor Park to examine a living shoreline. “We will unite at least one additional time during the remaining four years of the grant,” Pitter said. “With this program we are trying to instill in our students that they are not only a part of a center, but also a part of a group that provides support from their peers and is designed to really help them in terms of retention in the environmental sciences, particularly related to research in the areas of marine and coastal ecosystems. Participating in the center will also assist with their professional development and with learning how to navigate through sub-fields with the help of their counterparts.”4
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Robinson, the former director of FAMU’s Environmental Sciences Institute, said the project was an ideal example of harnessing the universities’ intellectual capital to help solve worldwide problems.
“Not only are we addressing several important issues related to our coastal ecosystems, we’re also training our students to become the next generation of global problem-solvers and individuals tasked with creating policies to protect and improve the world we live in now and in the future,” said Robinson, who was appointed in 2010 as NOAA’s assistant secretary of commerce by former President Barack Obama. Robinson added, “This consortium also ensures a vast and interdisciplinary scientific infrastructure through networking that supports the notion that we are stronger when we come together to solve our biggest issues. We are elated to have FAMU be a part of something so special and impactful.” Since September 2016, the institutions have primarily focused on organizational meetings, planning, and preparation for the field studies related to the grant.
Plans call for the center to focus on environmental issues such as algal blooms and examine how various other marine and coastal plants impact their ecosystems, as well as the inhabitants of certain areas and certain socioeconomic factors. Along with identifying causes of ecological problems, the researchers and students will also identify management and policy strategies to help protect what nature created. “This center brings together students,
8 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE 5Alexis Hamilton
faculty and NOAA scientists with diverse backgrounds, exposing the students to specialists’ areas,” said Michael Abazinge, Ph.D., School of the Environment professor and CCME associate director. “This collaboration allows the students to see that environment is more than what meets the eye and provides a holistic approach to dealing with environmental problems and working with other scientists to bring real solutions for today and the future.” CCME participant Dina Del Angel said one of the most important benefits of the program is what it means for protecting the public’s interests. “A lot of the marine and coastal environments that we are studying are public areas and public resources,” said Del Angel, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in environment at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. “They belong to us, our children and our children’s children. Everything that we do has an impact…. Part of what I think programs like this, and federal entities like NOAA, do is make [data] digestible not just to scientists and federal employees, but to the public. Because at the end of the day, these are the public’s resources, and they have the right to know what condition they’re in.” Shaquila Rolle, a FAMU sophomore and environmental science major, said the Gulf Coast trip was an amazing research opportunity. “This experience has been really eyeopening. It just gave me a bigger idea of what I really want to get into,” said Rolle, an Orlando native. Hamilton, a Southfield, Michigan native, credited the program with clarifying what
she wanted to do as an environmentalist. “I’m impressed with the different fields that NOAA covers, and they are involving us in different things that we didn’t even know about,” she said. “The program is really giving us the tools needed to be prepared to actually go into that field.” FAMU has provided students with such tools for decades. The institution’s track record in leading environmental-focused partnerships dates back as far as the early 2000’s, when the University won similar NOAA grants that resulted in the development of the NOAA Environmental Cooperative Science Center. The institution’s current CCME team includes faculty from the FAMU School of the Environment, College of Education, College of Science and Technology, College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, and School of Business and Industry. Hamilton said having that level of expertise within the program, coupled with being exposed to graduate and doctoral-level students from sister institutions, has been a bonus.
“This program is very hands-on, very engaging and very informative,” said Bellamy, who is enrolled in the master’s program for integrated environmental science at Bethune-Cookman. “Not only are we learning how to carry out certain procedures, but we are learning why it is important to carry them out in that way. We are actually doing these studies on-site, collecting field data, working on different databases and learning about different models. The graduate students are able to work on their thesis projects, and the undergraduates are able to work on their undergraduate research.” 5Dina Del Angel
Jordan Roberts, a FAMU freshman, said that as a beginning researcher in environmental science, she views the NOAA partnership as setting her on the pathway to success as a scientist. “Over the next few years, I’m really looking forward to the grooming, exposure and hands-on experience I will receive,” said the Tallahassee native. “I will really get a feel for what is actually going on and get to be involved in seeing environmental changes as they happen. I believe that this program is going to help build enthusiasm, not just in this field but in the sciences overall.”
“I like the mentorship aspect of this program and the fact that a lot of the students at the other institutions are older than us and have already headed down the road we are on,” she said. “They’re setting a good example for us and showing us the way to go and helping us to make connections with the right people. That is extremely helpful.”
I’m impressed with the different fields that NOAA covers, and they are involving us in different things that we didn’t even know about... - Alexis Hamilton
One of those advanced student researchers is Philip Bellamy, who highlighted some of the critical student-centered components of the partnership with the universities.
5Collaboration is a key component of the training students receive A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 9 through the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems.
PROFESSORS DOCUMENT AND SOLVE MYSTERY OF NEW SPECIES IN THE HEART OF FLORIDA BY [Domonique DAVIS]
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For many, the disappearance of a subterranean amphipod (or crustacean) species goes unnoticed. But for Florida A&M University Evolutionary Biology Assistant Professor Thomas Sawicki, Ph.D., it means countless hours of cave diving, years of exploration and an unwavering commitment to the advancement of science. More than 10 years ago, in the deep blue waters of De Leon Springs, Florida, a new subterranean amphipod species appeared, but it hadn’t been seen since. And Sawicki has been determined to find out why. He was introduced to the organism in 2005 by Old Dominion University Professor John Holsinger, Ph.D. After Holsinger sent Sawicki the amphipod for his own studies in 2011, Sawicki began traveling to De Leon Springs and other springs in Florida in hopes of collecting additional specimens. Despite numerous diving expeditions, Sawicki had been unsuccessful in uncovering more members of this new amphipod species. So he shifted his focus to the changing environment where the amphipods were once found and began studying the thinning white microbial mats covering the floors, ceilings and walls of the caves. “And we began considering the possibility that the changes in these microbial mats could be associated with the fact that we haven’t seen these animals,” he said. But with limited knowledge of the microbial community, Sawicki couldn’t take on this research endeavor alone. He enlisted the help of FAMU Associate Professor Richard Long, Ph.D., an environmental microbiologist, to help him further understand the role the microbial mats may be playing in the disappearance of the new species. Long, who also has a background in molecular biology, said the collaboration was a crucial step in starting to determine the potential effect of these changes. It was thought that the mats might serve as a habitat and food source for the amphipods. “Our collaboration is vital because we each have our own areas of expertise,” Long said. “So when we see these interesting questions, we bring a different point of view and different tool sets to address them. That’s really why he brought me aboard on the project – to look closer at the changes in the microbial community.” Together, the professors are determining if the changes taking place are natural or due to human activities, and what effects those changes are having on the aquifer – a source of water for more than 10 million people in the state. “Understanding how these changes in the ecosystem are occurring is fundamental, and seeing it so precisely has been interesting,” Sawicki said. “We are studying this habitat located just 50 to 60 miles outside of Orlando, in the shadows of the biggest tourist attractions on Earth. It just shows how much we still have to learn about life on this planet.” Though Long and Sawicki are still in search of the actual organism that sparked their exploration of the caves, their persistence has led to the discovery of incredible microbial diversity within the caves – 27 phyla of bacteria, to be exact.4 12 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE
We are studying this habitat located just 50 to 60 miles outside of Orlando, in the shadows of the biggest tourist attractions on Earth. - Thomas Sawicki, Ph.D.,
5Dr. Sawicki and Dr. Long explore the depths of De Leon Springs, Florida.
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3Dr. Sawicki (center) and Dr. Long (right) work closely with students like Andrew Cannizzaro (left) to prepare the next generation of leaders in discovery.
The information, environmental samples and DNA they collected over time gave them insight into a unique ecosystem that no other researchers had gained. This achievement led to an entry in the renowned Journal of Crustacean Biology. For the publication, Sawicki and Long partnered with Holsinger and Eric A. Lazo-Wasem from the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University to provide the first-ever description of the species named Crangonyx sulphurium. For many, the years of research may have grown tiring, but not for Sawicki and Long. Long said he appreciates the opportunity to conduct groundbreaking scientific studies because it allows him to bring the lessons back to the classroom. “When we bring cutting-edge research from the field into the classroom and turn them into classroom activities, our students can use our observations as a starting point for their own exploration of science,” Long said. And as their students embark on their own research, Sawicki said, one of the greatest lessons they can learn from his endeavors is that the research process takes time – often much more than they’d imagine. “I think a lot of students expect it to be two to three weeks, maybe a month’s worth of work, and they’ve got results, but a lot of these studies take years,” Sawicki said. However, he explained, if they are truly passionate about their research, it will be time well spent. “Ultimately, I followed what I was interested in, and it has worked for me,” Sawicki said. “It’s OK, important even, to do what you love and really follow that. I was a scuba diver since I was a kid, and I was able to take my scuba diving, something I enjoy, into these caves and use my skills to discover life where a lot of people couldn’t.”
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FAMU Serves as Pathway to NASA, Space Exploration Research
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BY [Shandra HILL SMITH]
Two mechanical engineering undergraduates at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering have embarked on an exciting NASA space exploration project as part of a unique partnership between FAMU and Lockheed Martin. Ebony Luster, a mechanical engineering major, and Bryan Anderson, an industrial and manufacturing engineering major, are involved in the five-year project that got underway just over a year ago. Okenwa Okoli, Ph.D., is principal investigator and works closely with the students. He is a professor and chair of the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department at the college and also serves as the U.S. Department of Energy Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence. Okoli says the students have started working on composite structures that position FAMU to be the first historically Black college or university to take part in such efforts. As part of the five-year, multimillion-dollar collaboration, students and faculty will work together on NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle Program and other Lockheed Martin space exploration projects.
“We’re thankful to serve,” said Okoli. “It’s a wonderful arrangement. It puts the University at the forefront of science, especially with a campus space program.” Partnerships like this will help provide the skills and technologies needed for space exploration, said Scott Jones, Lockheed Martin director of supply chain management on civil space programs. President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., said FAMU is excited about the opportunity for “our talented faculty and students to work with the Lockheed Martin and NASA team on the journey to Mars.” “The world-class researchers and
laboratories at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, the FAMU College of Science and Technology, and other STEM disciplines that will join the team will help make discoveries and develop new technologies needed for deep space exploration,” Robinson said. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor building the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, reportedly NASA’s first spacecraft designed for long-duration, human-rated deep space exploration. National and state leaders applauded FAMU and Lockheed Martin for an important partnership that will impact the next phase of aerospace research.4
Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor and major employer in Central Florida, is providing up to $5 million in funding to FAMU through a series of task orders commissioning work related to space exploration.
3Dr. Okoli, a leading researcher in the
5Dr. Moore, FAMU-FSU College of
FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, ensures
Engineering professor, helps prepare
that students are involved on every level of the
students for careers at NASA.
college’s work for Lockheed Martin and NASA.
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5Physics grad James Titus, Ph.D., (far right ) is a member of the NASA HERA Mission Team.
4Bryan Anderson, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering student
“Space exploration is a key element of America’s leadership agenda for the future,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. “I commend Lockheed Martin and Florida A&M University on this agreement to allow our next generation of engineers and scientists to contribute to the success of Orion and human missions to Mars.” But the institution’s NASA connection extends beyond the first-of-its-kind Lockheed Martin collaboration. Former and current students are building foundations for successful careers and playing key roles in the nation’s space exploration efforts. FAMUan James Titus, Ph.D., who served as a graduate researcher in FAMU’s Center for Plasma Science and Technology, is making an important impact at NASA. He recently completed a special mission at NASA’s three-story Human Exploration Research Analog Mission Program at the Johnson Center. “It’s basically a simulated mission to an asteroid and back – myself and three other crew members in a closed habitat for 45 days,” Titus said.
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His work for NASA includes maintaining simulated habitats and conducting experiments under different forms of stress to help ensure safety for astronauts during real-time missions. “The purpose is to gain information about how humans behave in that type of environment with those specific stresses (isolation and sleep deprivation), so they can develop a protocol for future astronauts,” he explained. FAMU grad students such as Faheem Muhammed are continuing the FAMU imprint at NASA. Last year, Muhammed received the prestigious Department of Defense SMART (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation) Fellowship, the first FAMU student to have done so. Muhammed was also awarded the NASA Harriet Jenkins Fellowship with internships at Kennedy Space Center and Army Research Labs. Under the mentorship of Professor Subramanian Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., in the FAMU-FSU Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Muhammed participated in a 10-week paid internship and
5 The faculty at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering offer expertise in robotics that is essential for deep space exploration.
NASA center-based research experience with a focus on developing novel magnetic composites. “Faheem is a very driven and talented student,” Ramakrishnan said. “The scientists were impressed by Faheem’s work ethic and productivity and wanted to continue working with him.” Students from FAMU’s School of Architecture and Engineering Technology are also making their mark. Every year, they have opportunities to intern with the NASA Kennedy Space Center and other organizations tied to NASA. In summer 2017, students interned at the NASA Space Center in Canada.
Space exploration is a key element of America’s leadership agenda for the future.
3Ebony Luster, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering student
- US Sen.
for them each summer,” with roughly a dozen – undergraduates in engineering, engineering technology or computer science – completing around 12 weeks of an internship downstate in Titusville, he said.
Additionally, Carl A. Moore, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering, says his department’s involvement with NASA through engineering firm AECOM creates student opportunities as well.
“NASA desires a diverse workforce like many private enterprises, so they have been interested in employing our students either as undergraduate interns – to get them acclimated – or as permanent hires. We’ve been able to successfully supply “We supply students as interns those students.” A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 19
Cancer Researchers Make Strides Toward Effective Natural Treatment BY [Shandra HILL SMITH]
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Groundbreaking research by faculty and students within the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (COPPS) at Florida A&M University has helped to place the nation steps closer to treatment innovations for several forms of cancer, particularly those impacting minority communities. With a focus on lung cancer and triple-negative breast cancer – which disproportionately affects African-American women – FAMU researchers are finding benefits to using natural products and ingredients, including as a preventive measure. Since its modest beginning in 1951, as a component of the chemistry department, COPPS has blossomed into a nationally acclaimed center for medical research. The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy lists it as the top recipient of National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants among all Florida pharmacy programs, which also includes the University of Florida, University of South Florida and Nova Southeastern University. The ranking contributed to the University’s elevation to a “high research activity” institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. FAMU received a grant from NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The Center of Excellence for Cancer Research, Training and Community Service grant is worth $5.6 million through 2018. The award supports research and provides training op-
portunities to doctoral students from health disparity populations. It also promotes cancer prevention and information dissemination activities through partnerships with community-based organizations. The University’s Research Centers in Minority Institutions also secured a five-year grant of nearly $13.7 million from the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The award, for the period of 2013 to 2018, supports drug discovery and research aimed at better understanding the makeup and risks associated with various degenerative diseases and their treatment. The grant also supports projects in drug discovery, molecular genetics and biotechnology research. Karam F.A. Soliman, Ph.D., is principal investigator for the RCMI Program. Since RCMI’s inception, COPPS has implemented four doctoral tracks in pharmaceutical sciences. Soliman says the team of 19 doctoral professors and researchers is grateful to the University and government organizations for the support they provide. “I feel I am very fortunate to be part of an outstanding university and
an outstanding team,” Soliman said. A top producer of patents (11 over the last five years) among historically Black colleges and universities, RCMI since 1985 has served as a hub for drug research and discovery with a mission of inventing and improving methods to eliminate the nation’s health disparities. “Cancer is an extremely complex group of a wide range of diseases, and it is not possible to have a single cure for cancer,” said Soliman. “What can be done is to significantly reduce the disease progression and the mortality associated with the disease through the use of multiple therapeutic means to be used simultaneously. FAMU scientists are trying to achieve this goal.” The natural products and ingredients researchers are using, says Soliman, stem from sources such as herbs and other plants. They include apigenin, a naturally occurring compound Soliman says is found in parsley and chamomile; black cumin seeds, an antioxidant that works against cancer; and thymoquinone, also an antioxidant. Others include green tea extracts, which increase immunity, are antiinflammatory in nature and contain4 A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 21
catechins – a major polyphenolic compound. Soliman points to work by Selina DarlingReed, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, finding that garlic contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-cancer property. Darling-Reed is a former student of Soliman and is living out her goals. “I hope to follow in the legacy of Dr. Soliman and so many others training the scientists who help people in our communities; and to make a difference as a researcher, teacher and mentor,” she said, in an earlier interview with the Translational Research Network. Nzinga Mack is one of those students benefiting from the wisdom, talent and dedication of faculty researchers like Soliman and Darling-Reed.
5Dr. Soliman is one of the University’s top researchers for generating grant dollars and publication citations.
“More than likely, we all know somebody who’s been touched by cancer, whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a family member or an acquaintance,” said Mack, a doctoral student in pharmacology. Mack is one of several students involved in the College of Pharmacy’s cancer research. “It’s wonderful to be part of the process that can prevent this huge disparity that especially AfricanAmerican women face in breast cancer and other types of cancer.” Mack’s work involves reviewing breast cancer cells that were donated for lab study and cloned in order to identify a gene that cancers use to grow. “It’s particularly sad because African-American women, even though we don’t have the highest incidences of breast cancer, have one of the highest mortality rates of breast cancer,” said Mack, who received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Howard University, and describes the research environment at FAMU as very welcoming.
5Nzinga Mack (front left) is one of several graduate students lending their talents in
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the lab to the fight against cancer.
“On our end of the spectrum, we’re trying to make sure we can offer new options to help treat or help ameliorate the symptoms of the cancer,” she said. “As we know, prevention is the most powerful thing that we have.”
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FAMU Prepares for New Era of High-Impact Agricultural Research
Brooksville T FLORIDA
wo hundred and forty miles south of its main campus in Tallahassee, Florida A&M University is preparing to launch high-impact research, extension projects and economic growth opportunities on 3,800 acres in Brooksville, Florida.
them with informed decision-making. For example, how to generate income on a regular basis through simultaneous animal and crop management, while ensuring they know how to use equipment and technology to sustain their farms.”
According to former FAMU President Fred Gainous, Ed.D., the new director of the Brooksville Agricultural and Environmental Research Station (BAERS), the University is poised to set new standards in the agriculture industry thanks to innovative livestock and farm training, and research unfolding there.
With a deep-rooted passion for agriculture and education, Gainous was tapped to implement new strategies and outreach efforts that will help elevate FAMU’s agricultural impact and reach – locally, statewide and nationally.
“Others will be able to look to Brooksville for best practices,” Gainous said. “We want the community to know that we can provide them with solutions to agricultural issues and insight on agricultural sustainability.” He added, “We will also focus on making an immediate impact in Pasco and Hernando counties (where Brooksville is located). We will be working with the small farmers there to help
BAERS was acquired by FAMU in 2015, as part of one of the largest transfers of public land from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to a historically Black college or university. Gainous previously directed FAMU’s Center for Agriculture Research and earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from FAMU, as well as a master’s degree in agricultural education and a doctorate in education from the University of Florida, a fellow land-grant institution.
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Under his leadership, Brooksville will focus on a gamut of research areas that will concentrate on bringing more effectiveness and efficiency to farming processes, including reproductive physiology, livestock management (including healthy feeding, grazing and nutrition solutions), hay production, and fertilization practices. BAERS will also have a strategic focus on conducting research that will enhance farming practices concerning cows and goats. Gainous says this will have a significant impact on strengthening farming processes and profitability for the entire Caribbean basin, because of the critical role small ruminants like goats and sheep play in the agriculture industry there. “We also think that we should become a policy center, particularly for small, Black, women and veteran farmers. We’ll have a data center, particularly for Black farmers, and crystallize the work they do and let them know how policies will impact them,” Gainous said.
BY [Aaliyah WILKERSON] + [Andrine STANHOPE]
Our land-grant mission will be fulfilled by conducting research that will address the concerns and needs of our stakeholders... - Stephen Leong
5Former FAMU President Fred Gainous, Ed.D., is leading innovative research and training at FAMU’s Brooksville location.
According to Robert Taylor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences and director of the University’s land-grant programs, Brooksville is a prime location for FAMU to expand into new research areas – especially those related to subtropical crops, fruits and animals. He explained that the Brooksville property has excellent potential to create economic and employment opportunities by stimulating new business investments and development in the area. Taylor says FAMU is planning to innovate new forms of crops and other farming products that will enhance the agricultural industry and strengthen and support the environment. “FAMU can participate in new forms of large-scale sustainable farming and biotechnology enterprises while improving the quality of life for minority and limitedresource farmers and communities. We will conduct research, extension and outreach that will find local and global solutions to agricultural, ecological, environmental, health and food security issues,” he said.
According to Stephen Leong, associate director of research in the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, one of the project’s most promising aspects is the ability to change lives while promoting the fulfillment of the University’s land-grant mission, which is to support branches of learning that relate to agriculture and mechanical arts. Newly implemented programs include partnering with the FAMU Small Business Development Center to offer rural entrepreneurs training in business basics and to launch a new Veteran Entrepreneurship Program. “Our land-grant mission will be fulfilled (at Brooksville) by conducting research that will address the concerns and needs of our stakeholders and help implement economically viable and sustainable programs with great commercialization potential that will attract corporate partners,” Leong said.
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Title III Programs Open Doors for New Innovators BY [Shandra HILL SMITH] As she interviews for permanent positions in her desired field, new Florida A&M University grad Renee Gordon is also hard at work on postdoctoral research at the renowned National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, just months after earning her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Gordon’s research while at FAMU has the potential to change the steel industry through her innovative use of cassava leaves, discovering an economical and eco-friendly way to harden steel. The Fulbright scholar and fellow FAMU-FSU College of Engineering grads Shannon Anderson and Marcella Carnes garnered national attention in 2017 as minority women breaking barriers in the sciences. The best friends agree their success is due in large part to the support each received from a little-known but high-impact program found on college campuses nationwide: Title III. Funds from Title III support graduate and professional programs and assist low-income students. “The comfort in knowing that bills were paid without the burden of needing an outside job was crucial as a graduate student,” said Gordon, who is pursuing a position in the energy and materials industry. “I was provided with funding for all of my research needs, which included presenting at conferences as well as getting laboratory supplies. “These things were critical to completing the work I was conducting. The program provided a consistent stipend, which was a blessing,” said the Jamaica native, who grew up in Miami.
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Without Title III, Micah McCrary-Dennis doesn’t know how he would have gotten through his research studies at FAMU. “I know I would not have been able to mentally stay focused on school,” said McCrary-Dennis, who in May 2016 graduated with his doctorate in industrial and mechanical engineering. He now lives in Portland, Oregon, in his first year as a process engineer with Intel. The Atlanta native earned dual bachelor’s degrees from FAMU – in industrial and mechanical engineering and in French. “I think Title III has been a tremendous benefit to our students,” said Charles Weatherford, Ph.D., interim executive director of the program at FAMU. “Title III is critical for graduate and professional programs.” FAMU receives three types of Title III funding: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Historically Black Graduate Institutions (HBGI), and the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act (SAFRA). Title III funding at FAMU supports the physics doctoral program, engineering, pharmacy and more. The support has helped to develop more minorities and women in STEM by providing scholarships, fellowships and other financial assistance for graduate students in need, according to the institution’s Title III office. For the academic periods of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, funds in the HBGI Program demonstrated quite a few successes, with students receiving assistance in the form of stipends, graduate assistantships and/or supplies for research.4
5Interim Title III Executive Director Charles Weatherford, Ph.D., and Program Leader Delores Glover work closely with graduate researchers, like Twan Capehart (left) and Breonna Appling (right), to ensure their success.
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These include, from the College of Pharmacy, 19 Doctor of Philosophy degrees awarded, 327 Doctor of Pharmacy degrees, 11 Doctor of Public Health degrees and 75 master’s degrees in public health. During these periods, the College of Engineering saw five doctorates and 13 master’s degrees awarded. The College of Science and Technology saw 20 master’s degrees in the combined disciplines of physics, biology, chemistry and computer science and one doctorate in physics. Five doctorates and five master’s degrees were awarded in the School of the Environment. Funds that provided support to students such as Gordon, Anderson and Carnes came through the College of Engineering Title III Funding Program. “FAMU’s programs have been a tremendous help in assisting us both academically and professionally,” said Gordon.
tration in environmental engineering. Carnes, an NSF International Research Experiences grantee, received a doctorate in civil engineering with a concentration in structures. Weatherford says Title III funds are intended to provide beginning fellowships to graduate students for the first year or two, possibly three, with the cost then being picked up by research grants. That doesn’t always happen, though, he says, and the Title III support simply continues. For Gordon, the support has helped bring her closer to her future plans. “My passion lies within ventures where the improvement of our way of life through innovation is harmoniously balanced with protecting our planet and its natural resources,” she said. “I want to work on exciting projects where I know I am making a positive impact on my community. Afterward, I plan to come back to academia to teach and mentor future scientists.”
Anderson, a Winifred Burks-Houck Professional Leadership awardee, received a doctorate in civil engineering with a concen3(From left) Gordon with fellow engineering grads Marcella Carnes and Shannon Anderson.
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BY [Veronique GEORGE]
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Since its inception, Florida A&M University’s research enterprise has served to foster relevant exploration, intellectual discovery, creative problem-solving and the dissemination of new knowledge. The award-winning success of this enterprise is attributed to the work of the University’s most devoted research faculty and principal investigators. Each year, several of the University’s most highly regarded research community members are selected by their peers in the Faculty Senate to receive top honors for their achievements. The research awards are designed to help promote and enhance FAMU’s distinction as a doctoral-research institution and its mission to provide mechanisms to address emerging issues through local
The Agribusiness Program at FAMU gave me the great opportunity to do what I love best – apply the economic theory to investigate issues that affect the agricultural sector in Florida and worldwide.
and global partnerships, while enhancing the lives of constituents through forward-thinking research. “The Principal Investigator’s Research Award winners represent the many outstanding accomplishments of FAMU’s dedicated research faculty,” said Bettye Grable, Ph.D., Faculty Senate president and University trustee. “These honorees participate in research that helps to further explore and answer questions about some of the most important scientific issues in the 21st century.” Here’s a look at FAMU’s research all-stars who took discovery and exploration on the “Hill” to new heights in 2017.
Daniel Solís, Ph.D.,
Emerging Researcher of the Year Solís is an assistant professor in the Agribusiness Program in the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences at FAMU. He holds doctorate and master’s degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Connecticut, with concentrations in natural resource economics and productivity and efficiency analysis. His research interests also include environmental and development economics and impact evaluation. Dr. Solís has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles, mainly in the areas of productivity of agricultural systems and impact evaluation of natural resource management projects. More recently, Dr. Solís has focused his research on evaluating the impact of policies and regulations on commercial fishing in the U.S.
- Daniel Solís, Ph.D.
Mandip Sachdeva, Ph.D. Distinguished Researcher of the Year
Sachdeva is a professor and section leader for pharmaceutics activity in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. His areas of research interest and expertise include drug delivery with special emphasis in inhalation/aerosol delivery as applied to lung cancer, triple-negative breast cancer and topical delivery of neuropeptides. He also is focusing on identifying new molecular pathways and mechanisms for therapeutic agents and nucleic acids intended for the treatment of lung, breast and skin cancer. He has numerous honors and awards, including serving as a Fulbright Fellow. He has published more than 140 articles and papers in biopharmaceutics, and made more than 200 presentations at conferences and international meetings. 32 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE
Take up an idea think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea. This is the way to success.
- Mandip Sachdeva, Ph.D.
Our aim is to create a pipeline of new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals to address the challenges of the future.
Subramanian Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., Research Excellence
Ramakrishnan is an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. His areas of research interest and expertise include colloidal science, nanotechnology, nanoparticle synthesis and self-assembly, rheology of complex fluids, renewable energy, biofuels, and bioseparations. He has published 15 journal articles and three book chapters, garnered more than $8 million in funding, and presented at 25 conferences. He has always considered service an important part of his academic duty and it is his aim to be a “good citizen” of his program, department and FAMU.
- Subramanian Ramakrishnan, Ph.D.
Caroline Odewumi, Ph.D., Research Excellence
Odewumi is an associate professor in the Department of Biology in the FAMU College of Science and Technology. Her areas of research interest and expertise include molecular environmental toxicology, molecular biology, cancer research, gene expression, and gene regulation. She has made several presentations at national conferences such as the Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology, the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the American Society for Microbiology, and the Annual Meeting of the Environmental Mutagen Society. She is an active member of editorial boards for peer-reviewed journals and much of her research has been published nationally. She has also mentored to graduation more than 10 graduate students at both master’s and doctorate levels, and more than 20 undergraduate students have been trained in her research lab.
I am grateful to FAMU for providing the environment for our research to proceed and thrive. - Seth Ablordeppey, Ph.D.
Due to the nature of my research, I consistently have the opportunity to collaborate with other scientists both on and off campus. - Caroline Odewumi, Ph.D.
Seth Ablordeppey, Ph.D. Distinguished Researcher of the Year
Ablordeppey is the recently appointed interim dean of the FAMU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He joined FAMU as an assistant professor in 1993, having served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. His research involves computer-aided design, synthesis and evaluation of compounds targeted to specific central nervous system receptors, natural products as sources of the identification of new scaffolds for drug development, development of structure activity relationship, 3-D models in drug design, and the development of novel orally effective anti-infective agents against opportunistic infections associated with AIDS. He has received numerous grants over the years from various agencies totaling more than $18.5 million in funding. He has more than 62 published articles, more than six book chapters in print, more than 60 presentations in various settings, and has been awarded four patents and four provisional letters. A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 33
DEVELOPING APP INNOVATORS ON THE ‘HILL’ BY [Aaliyah WILKERSON]
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3FAMU APP Challenge winners Ania Wilson and Rodney Wilson work with Lucas Lindsey and Sabrina Torres (center) of Domi Station, a business incubator and FAMU
technology transfer partner.
lumnus Carmichael Caldwell III lives by the saying “Have the imagination of a child and the wisdom of an adult.” And his commitment to this adage has come to life through an innovation that is taking the tech industry by storm.
He is the founder and CEO of the startup Menti – which produces a one-ofa-kind app designed to cultivate and facilitate relationships between mentors and mentees while streamlining the communication within the traditional mentorship process. Menti also allows universities and organizations to expand their reachability, reengage their alumni, expose students to industry experts, increase retention and job placement, and ultimately close the gap between alumni and current students. Caldwell says his successful launch into Silicon Valley was inspired by the foundation he and co-founder Trent Patterson received as students in the FAMU School of Business and Industry. A part of that foundation was reaching back to those coming behind them. It was, in fact, their dedication to the SBI way of paying it forward that fueled the concept for Menti. “We really spent a lot of time tutoring and helping students in economics. And when we left we had a lot of students who were reaching out to us about career advice,” Caldwell said. “We really wanted to create a place where we could share these resources with a wide range of mentees at the press of a button (and) just empower students to really reach their career goals. Then, we discovered that a lot of our peers were having similar issues and wanted to give back to their university.” Soon Caldwell and Patterson will have another group of students to advise. Since they graduated about four years ago, the campus has become a vibrant center for producing the next generation of app innovators. This is due in large part to a renewed focus on offering hands-on opportunities for invention and experiential learning through such programs as the FAMU Division of Research’s App Challenge in partnership with business incubator Domi Station. The challenge, which is helping to promote diversity in the tech community, requires students to gather in teams and create technology apps that cater to the needs of society. Participants outline a plan of action, construct marketing ideas, set up client encounter outlines – all while focusing on versatile application, web advancement, programming, product design and layout. During the 2017 edition of the competition, two FAMU students emerged as leaders – successfully pitching and demonstrating the production of their apps to local business leaders, experienced designers and tech innovators. Ania Wilson led her team in creating Kurl Box, designed to provide an educational resource that connects and creates a community geared toward Black women and hair care. Rodney Wilson led his team in creating Shotgun, designed to “be like an Uber or Lyft, specifically for college students.” Ania credits FAMU with teaching her to not only hone her skills but also turn4 A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 35 A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 35
her dreams into realities.
“If you aren’t embarrassed by your product at some point, then you are doing something wrong,” he explained, referring to the process of app creation.
“I’ve always had an interest 5Alumnus Carmichael Caldwell is the creator of the app Menti. in computers. However, I never truly realized how intricate the machine itself is, and I definitely never fathomed the idea of creating an app,” Ania said. “FAMU allowed my team and me to Caldwell underscored that it takes a lot of sacrifices to ensure bring my ideas to life. We have been exposed to a plethora of new the success of a technology app. After he and Patterson drove experiences and opportunities.” from New York to Detroit to pitch their app at a startup convention, they realized they wanted to fully commit to Menti. They left their A graduate student in the College of Science and Technology, Rodney says FAMU has given him an experience he will never forget. corporate jobs at Tyson and J.P. Morgan to pursue their passion of mentorship through technology and innovation. He said his professors and the preparation he received through the graduate school equipped him to take on the app challenge. “The college is so helpful,” he said. “They have sent me to conferences to make presentations and share my innovative ideas. Through these opportunities, I have been able to meet other professionals in the computer and technology industry.” According to Lucas Lindsey, Domi Station’s executive director and one of the judges for the App Challenge, FAMU’s app program is one of his favorite events of the year. “[FAMU] students come armed with big ideas and a lot of energy to build new things. Our team always leaves the App Challenge inspired and fired up to grow Tallahassee’s startup ecosystem,” he said. Lindsey works with Domi’s executive board to encourage and empower early-stage entrepreneurs at FAMU and other campuses. He said it’s imperative that students learn by doing – and FAMU’s got the right formula to help them get there. “Go to hackathons, build small ideas over and over with friends. Whether you look for a job someday or strike out on your own, what you have built will speak for you and prepare you to do more,” he said. FAMU’s focus on getting prepared through trial-and-error opportunities is the key to success, according to Caldwell. 36 // FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY // A&M MAGAZINE
“I think being able to take what I have learned from FAMU, and transfer that into the real world in terms of networking and building organizations, is what has helped,” Caldwell said. As Caldwell, Ania Wilson and Rodney Wilson work toward taking their apps to the next level, leaders on the “Hill” are developing new programs to inspire tech-based entrepreneurship that will catapult FAMU into the ranks of the nation’s leading innovation hubs. With such programs as the I/O Avenue Code Academy, in partnership with Domi and alumnus and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and a million-dollar Innovation Center and Research, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Hub grant, which strengthens entrepreneurship and technology commercialization on campus and in the community, FAMU is on the verge of changing the face of technology. “These programs will support increasing the impact of current FAMU initiatives that focus on the commercialization of research, entrepreneurial development, digital development, and ‘making,’” said David Teek, FAMU’s coordinator of export control. “We will utilize existing university facilities and expertise to engage students and community members in connected technology-based pathways while increasing individual economic opportunity and supporting business formation and expansion.”
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BY [Domonique DAVIS]
For more information on Seeli, visit
his is the promise that Seeli, an organic skin and hair care line, makes to its customers for each of its products.
was determined to offer products that were free of harsh chemicals and synthetic ingredients.
Seeli – meaning “fusion” in Yoruba – was created in 2016 by Florida A&M University alumna Keri Larris. Inspired partly by the sounds of African music and language during a scientific study trip she took to South Africa while a student, she decided to celebrate the culture by giving all of her products traditional African-inspired names.
FAMU’s Food Sciences program teaches its students to apply biology, chemistry, physics, biotechnology, microbiology, engineering and mathematics to ensure that what is taken into the body is safe and has nutritional value.
From lip balms to hair creams, she promises that each is filled with the care and love she put into creating it.
According to Professor Keawin Sarjeant, Ph.D., students such as Larris have been taught that making well-informed choices is the most important aspect of ensuring products are truly organic, meaning they are produced without harmful pesticides.
“When you’re making products out of your kitchen, and funding everything yourself, it really is a labor of love,” Larris explained. “I work full-time and I also run my business full-time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what I do.”
From food to beauty products, Sarjeant teaches CAFS scholars that it is imperative to help people do what’s best for their own bodies, and he encourages students and the community to make research-based decisions.
And while Seeli is a celebration of a rich culture, it is also rooted in FAMU’s rich tradition of research. It was classroom inspiration that led Larris on her journey to healing others through organic ingredients.
“Some people have very sensitive skin and need products that are formulated for that,” Sarjeant said, explaining what students learn in the classroom. “At the end of the day, people need to be empowered to make the best decisions for themselves.”
Larris, a 2011 graduate of the FAMU College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS), began making the all-natural products for personal use, and for family and friends.
Larris took this to heart. She is proud to see more women taking interest in the chemicals in the foods they eat and products they use.
However, with some encouragement from those closest to her, she decided to make them available to the public. From there, Seeli was born.
“I think that it is absolutely beautiful that more women are returning to their natural state, and they’re becoming more knowledgeable about what they are putting into their bodies,” Larris said.
“My sister was suffering from hair loss, and nothing she was trying was working,” Larris said. “So, I did some research and mixed up a product for her to use, to treat her scalp, and she started to see growth. My products are filled with essential oils and herbal extracts. Not only do they promote healing, but they also smell great.”
By offering tips through her various social media channels, and attending various natural hair expos and festivals, she is determined to help women make informed decisions to not only make their hair healthier, but live healthier lifestyles.
Larris explained that her interest in organic foods and products began after one of her professors encouraged a class to research the ingredients in their foods. After her research, Larris said she
And, as she sees more women embrace their natural beauty and learn which products best enhance it, she is proud to offer a line that will help them along their journey. “They’re accumulating this self-awareness that was not there before,” Larris said. “I’m just grateful to be a part of it.” A&M MAGAZINE // SPRING 2018 // 39
Published on Feb 27, 2018