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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

October 2022

Making history: NIEHS trainee named 2022 Astronaut Scholar

Tanae Lewis makes history as North Carolina HBCU's first student to be named both a Barry Goldwater Scholar and an Astronaut Scholar.

Tanae Lewis, a 2021-2022 NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) trainee, recently made history after being named a 2022 Astronaut Scholar ― one of just 68 across the nation. The Astronaut Scholarship was created to ensure that the United States would maintain its leadership in science and technology by supporting the most promising science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) college students.

Tanae Lewis “My internship at NIEHS really contributed to my success,” said Lewis, a recent NIEHS Scholars Connect Program trainee. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS.)

Lewis is a senior chemistry student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T). She is the university’s first Goldwater Scholar to also be named an Astronaut Scholar, and the first college student from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) to achieve this dual recognition. She completed a yearlong biomedical research internship at NIEHS, studying how the disruption of RNA processing pathways can lead to neurodevelopmental disease.

As a 2022 Astronaut Scholar, Lewis will receive a $15,000 scholarship, a paid trip to Orlando, Florida to attend the annual Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) Innovators Week and Gala, and lifelong engagement with astronauts, researchers, innovators, and Astronaut Scholar alumni.

Connecting scholars, mentors

“The NIEHS Scholars Connect Program that Tanae Lewis took part in last year was developed to enhance the training and mentoring of our future scientific leaders,” said NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D. “Tanae’s selection as an Astronaut Scholar not only speaks to the success of the program but also to the hard work and dedication of her outstanding mentors.”

Lewis’s NIEHS mentors are Robin Stanley, Ph.D., who leads the Nucleolar Integrity Group, and postdoctoral fellow Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D.

Robin Stanley, Ph.D., and Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D. Stanley (left) and Hayne (right) said they are immensely proud of Lewis’s continued success. “I’d also like to congratulate Dr. Hayne for her excellent mentoring of Tanae and for encouraging her to pursue additional opportunities,” Stanley said. (Photos courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS.)

“Cassandra and I are super proud of Tanae and all her accomplishments,” Stanley said. “Due to Covid restrictions, Tanae’s Scholars Connect experience was virtual, but despite this, she persevered and was able to accomplish quite a lot.”

Above and beyond

“I am truly grateful for the experience and opportunity to work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Dr. Stanley’s lab mentored by Dr. Hayne,” Lewis said. “My research experience was outstanding, to say the least. I learned a lot in this lab, and the work done prepared and taught me how to think like, and eventually, become a great scientist.”

Lewis keeps busy in her pursuit to research neurodegenerative diseases and hopes to one day research new treatments and technologies for Alzheimer's disease.

In college, she serves as a peer mentor and Aggie student success leader in the College of Science and Technology (CoST)’s Department of Chemistry and is vice president of the NC A&T Chemistry Club. She is a 2019-2021 CoST SciTech Scholar, as well as an Aggie Gentz Scholarship recipient for 2019-2022 and a chemistry department scholarship recipient. She has been on the NC A&T Chancellor’s List since 2019, is a member of the Science and Math National Honor Society, and was initiated in April into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

Continuing to diversify STEM

The Astronaut Scholarship was created in 1984 by the surviving Mercury 7 astronauts. The program provides academic scholarships to second- and third-year STEM students who are intent on pursuing research or advancing their fields upon graduation.

Kathleen Bostick (left), Tanae Lewis (center), and Sarai Rankin (right) Kathleen Bostick, from Spelman College (left); Lewis (center); and Sarai Rankin, from Morgan State University (right), attended the Astronaut Scholars Innovators Week Gala in August. (Photo courtesy of Tanae 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,” said Lewis. “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.”

(Note: This article originated from this press release written by Jackie Torok, director of media relations at NC A&T.)

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