Princeton’s First Black Valedictorian
Nicholas Johnson, an operations research and financial engineering concentrator from Montreal, has been named valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2020.
Johnson is the first black valedictorian in Princeton’s history.
He said he appreciates the encouragement he has received at Princeton in developing his academic interests. The University’s support through opportunities including international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom were especially significant, Johnson said. But most of all, he treasures his relationships with his classmates.
“My favorite memories of my time at Princeton are memories of time spent with close friends and classmates engaging in stimulating discussions — often late at night — about our beliefs, the cultures and environments in which we were raised, the state of the world, and how we plan on contributing positively to it in our own unique way,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to spend this summer interning as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group before beginning Ph.D. studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2020.
Along with his concentration in operations research and financial engineering, he is pursuing certificates in statistics and machine learning, applied and computational mathematics, and applications of computing.
His research has focused primarily on sequential decision-making under uncertainty, optimization, and the ethical considerations that must be made given the increasing role of algorithmic decision-making systems.
His senior thesis, “Sequential Stochastic Network Structure Optimization with Applications to Addressing Canada’s Obesity Epidemic,” focuses on developing high-performance, efficient algorithms to solve a network-based optimization problem that models a community-based preventative health intervention designed to curb the prevalence of obesity in Canada.
This work, supervised by Miklos Racz, assistant professor of operations research and financial engineering, also has applications to public health interventions designed to increase adherence to strict social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Johnson has another ongoing research project supervised by Yacine Ait-Sahalia, the Otto A. Hack ’03 Professor of Finance and professor of economics, in which he is developing a reinforcement learning agent to execute large financial trade orders with minimal market distortion.
During his junior year, Johnson conducted an independent research project, “Generating Privacy Preserving Synthetic Datasets,” supervised by Prateek Mittal, associate professor of electrical engineering, in which he developed a machine learning system to more robustly anonymize datasets than existing alternatives. He presented this work at the spring 2019 Electrical Engineering Symposium and the 2019 Center for Statistics and Machine Learning Symposium.
Among his other professors, William Massey, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and Dannelle Gutarra Cordero, a lecturer in African American studies, were also influential.
“Professor Massey inspired me by sharing his ever-present love for operations research and through his advocacy for black and African American students in STEM fields,” Johnson said. “He encouraged me to pursue increasingly ambitious research projects and to share my work at academic conferences. Professor Gutarra introduced me to academic writing during my first-year Writing Seminar. She was instrumental in helping me develop my skills as an effective academic writer and communicator, and she motivated me to become a writing fellow.”
In addition to serving as a writing fellow at Princeton’s Writing Center, Johnson is editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy. He is a member of Whitman College, where he has served as a residential college adviser. He is also a member of the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders and served as its co-president in 2018.
As a rising senior, Johnson worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google’s California headquarters.
He previously interned at Oxford University’s Integrative Computational Biology and Machine Learning Group, developing and implementing a novel optimization technique under the supervision of Aleksandr Sahakyan, principal investigator and group head. He presented the project at Princeton’s inaugural Day of Optimization in October 2018 and at the 25th Conference of African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences in June 2019, where his project was recognized with the Angela E. Grant Poster Award for Best Modeling.
Johnson has interned at Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, and he participated in Whitman’s exchange program with Morningside College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in March 2017.
Among his academic honors, Johnson is a recipient of the Class of 1883 English Prize for Freshmen in the School of Engineering, a two-time recipient of the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence, and co-recipient with Sommers of the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in fall 2019 and to Tau Beta Pi in 2018, where he served as president of the Princeton Chapter in 2019.
Johnson is a graduate of Selwyn House School and attended Marianopolis College, both in Westmount, Quebec.
By Denise Valente, Princeton University, Office of Communications
Photo by Lisa Festa, Center for Career Development
Black Life Texas
Visit with Authors at the San Antonio African American Book Festival
The fourth annual San Antonio African American Book Festival (SAAABF) will be held on Feb. 25 at the Carver Library and Second Baptist Community Center from 12 pm to 5 pm. The event is free for the public.
Last year’s event attracted 40 African American authors. The annual event was created to highlight the power of Black literature, reinforce the fact that representation matters, and to encourage Black economics.
The Friends of the Carver Library annually seeks sponsorships to fund the free event. The organization said the goal is to promote literacy in a way that positively reflects the importance of “controlling and sharing our narrative.”
10:30 am – 8th Annual Black History for Children Book Exhibit hosted by Baba Aundar (Carver Library Meeting Room)
12- 5 pm – Browse & Buy from Participating Authors (2nd Baptist Community Center, next door to Carver Library)
1 pm – Young People’s Writing Session hosted by The San Antonio Chapter of The Links, Inc. (Carver Library Meeting Room)
2 pm – Keynote Author: Dr. Mateen Diop (Carver Library Meeting Room)
History of the Carver Library
G.W. Carver Library opened in 1930 at the Carver Community Center as a Reading Room in the Carver Community Auditorium & Library. The Carver Community Auditorium & Library was built with funds raised from San Antonio’s Black Community. It later became the Colored Branch of the San Antonio Public Library system, and the only place in San Antonio Black people were allowed to access books. Carver Library moved to its current location at 3350 E. Commerce Street in 1972 and has been a long-standing pillar in San Antonio’s Black Community.
Carver Library is the official home of The San Antonio African American Book Festival. This annual event is held on the last Saturday of Black History Month. Carver Library is currently home to the city’s largest African American book collection, The Pan-African Festival, and many other events. There is a Children’s Library, Teen Center, LEARN Resource Center, Computer Lab, meeting room, and a Black History Photograph Exhibit.
South Texas HBCU College Fair Back Again
By Ebony Huerta Wells
St. Philip’s College, Prairie View A&M University, and Texas Southern University are just three of the nine HBCUs or Historically Black Colleges & Universities in Texas.
Many of these HBCUs will be at the Annual South Texas HBCU College Fair at Northeast Lakeview College on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 9 am to noon. The event is made possible by IMBRACE Education, which is partnering with NAACP’s San Antonio Branch Youth Council and Northeast Lakeview College.
Last year, more than 600 families attended, and more than 40 HBCUs participated in the event.
This event will allow college-bound middle school/high school students and their parents to speak to several HBCU admissions representatives/alumni and ROTC scholarship program managers regarding the educational opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
There will be special performances by Sam Houston High School’s Marching Storm and Judson Early College Academy’s Step Team, including interactive college readiness workshops.
Monique A. Cannon Broadnax, founder and executive director of IMBRACE, said the focus is on HBCUs because of their significant role in advancing the value and importance of a post-secondary education that holistically engages Black students. These institutions of higher learning are dedicated to and single-handedly responsible for ensuring that underrepresented students, low socioeconomic students, disenfranchised students, first-generation college students, and students from all backgrounds who traditionally excel academically and socially in nurturing environments attain bachelor’s, master’s, professional and doctoral degrees.
IMBRACE Education, a nonprofit organization, provides students and parents with information regarding the college application process and scholarships and conducts tours of college and university campuses with a focus on increasing enrollment at HBCUs. For 10 years, it has been devoted to preparing students for life after high school by creating experiences to expose students to post-secondary options at all HBCUs.
All attendees (students, parents, sponsors, and community members) must pre-register, print and present or display their registration ticket at the door upon entry. The event will occur at Northeast Lakeview College’s Llano Wellness Center Building near Parking Lot 3 at 1201 Kitty Hawk Road in Universal City. Visit (ImbraceEducation.org) for more information.
Turning HBCU Students into Medical Doctors
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 8% of medical students and 5% of physicians are Black and African American. In an effort to address this disparity, the American Heart Association, the leading public health nonprofit organization dedicated to building a world of longer, healthier lives for all, has announced that 52 students from 23 academic institutions have been selected to participate in its Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Scholars program.
The Association’s HBCU Scholars are enrolled in biomedical or other health sciences programs at their respective institutions. Through their participation in the Scholars program, they will study how the social determinants of health and other health disparities impact underserved communities. They will also participate in scientific research projects and present their findings at the end of the program.
“Since 2015, the American Heart Association HBCU Scholars program has helped change the trajectory of dozens of under-represented students in science and medicine by fostering their talent, preparedness and growth to pursue careers in biomedical science” said American Heart Association volunteer president Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, who is the Walter A. Haas-Lucie Stern endowed chair in Cardiology, professor of medicine and admissions dean at University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine. “As champions for health care quality and access for all, the American Heart Association is committed to building the pipeline of diverse persons in medicine and empowering the next generation of research and health care professionals.”
The program is funded by a grant provided by the Quest Diagnostics Foundation, which also supports the American Heart Association’s Hispanic Serving Institutes (HSI) Scholars Program.
“This program plays an essential role in supporting the pipeline of Black students who will increase representation and equity in the health care field,” said Mandell Jackson, vice president and general manager, Quest for Health Equity, Quest Diagnostics. “We are proud to support this next cohort of HBCU Scholars with the American Heart Association as it provides them with enriching academic and networking experiences to help them excel in their career paths.”
Accepted students are selected based on their GPA, completion of a formal application, which includes a nursing essay, and an official recommendation from their school. During the program, scholars are paired with a mentor who works in health care or is currently performing their own relevant scientific research. They will also participate in a leadership development program and are awarded a financial stipend to help cover education-related expenses. More about the American Heart Association’s HBCU Scholars initiative can be found here.
Clinical research studies published in the American Journal of Public Health suggest that patients of color may experience uncomfortable interactions and communication barriers with their health care providers due to lack of diversity and face implicit and unconscious bias from physicians and other health care professionals. These barriers, in turn, can lower patients’ trust in the overall health care system and as a result, these patients may not complete prescribed treatments or follow-up on recommended care. Addressing this issue is a vital component of the HBCU Scholars program.
Each year, the Association seeks applications from sophomores, juniors and seniors from historically underrepresented communities who are currently enrolled in an HBCU and are interested in pursuing a professional degree in biomedical and health sciences.
Power Book II: Ghost Debuts in Starz
American Red Cross: On the Right Side of History
Game, Match, Set – Part Five
Video Surfaces in Ahmaud Arbery Case
Bushwick Bill, Of Houston Rap Group Geto Boys, Dead At 52
Botswana’s First Skyscraper and Tallest Building
Community3 weeks ago
Celebrating 100 Years – Saleta Rodgers
Black Life Texas3 weeks ago
Black Leadership and the role of the church
Black Life Texas3 weeks ago
Adidas and Ye Friends Again
Black Life Texas4 weeks ago
A Crowded Mayor’s Race
Black Life Texas3 weeks ago
The Cover Up – Part II
Black Life Texas2 weeks ago
Chris Rock Breaks Silence with Netflix Special
Black Life Texas2 weeks ago
A Mixture of Black Girl Magic
Black Life Texas4 weeks ago
The Notification – Part One