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Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett – the Black female scientist at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine development and her STEM education

Along with manufacturing and distribution issues, public health officials are concerned about millions of Americans who are resistant to taking the coronavirus vaccine.

To address this, some of those officials are shining a light not just on the science behind the shots, but on the scientists who helped bring the vaccines to fruition – 34-year-old Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett.

Corbett’s interest in science started early. The North Carolina native participated in a program called Project SEED (Summer Experiences for the Economically Disadvantaged), and spent her high school summer breaks as an intern at research laboratories.

Project SEED grew out of the vision of William F. Johntz to improve the success rate of all students, particularly those disadvantaged by poverty and racism. Johntz saw that low-achieving students were hindered by their past academic failures. Traditional remediation often reinforced feelings of academic inferiority, leading to further poor performance. The Project SEED method engages young, active minds with an interactive question-and-answer style of teaching, promoting deep understanding of mathematical concepts. Mastering advanced mathematical concepts boosts confidence in young students, improves their performance in other academic areas, and teaches them to be effective learners.

She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as a Meyerhoff Scholar, an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science. Graduates of the program include Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

UMBC launched the Meyerhoff Scholars Program to increase the number of black men with Ph.D.s in the STEM fields, through intense mentoring, financial aid, faculty support and professional development. It has since expanded to include women and anyone interested in increasing diversity in those fields – and has become a national model because of its demonstrated success.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 18% of all students graduate with a STEM degree, among 2% are black.

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