Underrepresented Graduate Student Fellowship

Funded by Microsoft, this fellowship addresses the underrepresentation of minority doctoral candidates across all FIU programs, with the aim of strengthening how we support our doctoral scholars at FIU, especially within the STEM disciplines. Each candidate will receive $1,200 for the Fall 2022 and the Spring 2023 semesters ($2,400 total). Selected candidates will participate in professional development workshops alongside their cohort, receive networking opportunities with professionals from FIU and beyond, as well as enjoy a host of social and academic activities to promote community, belonging, and mentorship.

One of the best ways for FIU, as one of the largest and most diverse institutions in the nation, to improve minority representation across faculty positions and administrative roles is to ensure that more diverse applicants are accepted into these terminal degree programs and achieve degree completion.

Trina Fletcher, assistant professor for the College of Engineering and Computing and the PI for research for the grant


  • Must be fully admitted or enrolled in any of the 33 doctoral programs at FIU
  • Must be considered a historically underrepresented minority student
  • Must have a cumulative 3.0 GPA
  • Must have a strong interest in DEI initiatives


  • Complete the online application
  • Submit one letter of recommendation
  • Submit both a CV and a Resume
  • Either two 3-minute videos or two 300-word essays describing your long-term professional goals and an accomplishment you are proud of and why

Our 2022 Fellowship Recipients

Group photo of the 2022 Underrepresented Graduate Student Fellowship  cohort

Pictured with the 2022 fellowship cohort are Dr. Trina Fletcher (far left), and Dr. Jay Jefferson (far right), the program leadership for the fellowship.

Read the full article on FIU News

  • Niran Akintunde, International Crime and Justice, Ph.D.

    Niran Akintunde is studying for a Ph.D. degree in International Crime and Justice at the Steven J Green School of International and Public Policy. His research area is in Restorative Justice and Hate Crime. His future career goal is to work in policy with the determination of addressing systemic issues confronting equity-deserving groups.

    He is committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with a sense of duty to recognize the inequity in our society with the desire to be part of the efforts that can lead to equal opportunities and respect for all persons. He has been advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion particularly in previous roles, doing community development work in addressing identity-based harm and later serving as the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Advocate for the City of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada to identify, disrupt, and address systemic barriers affecting equity-deserving communities. 

    With a sense of purpose and dedication, he is motivated to continue to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in my journey as a doctoral student and beyond. It is indeed a personal life goal to be part of the change that disrupts oppressive systems and to build together a society with empathy and compassion for all, irrespective of age, ability, gender, sex, race, religion, etc.

  • Kehinde Alawode, Civil Engineering, Ph.D.

    Kehinde is an international student from Nigeria, and in the doctoral program in the department of civil and environmental engineering at FIU. His research is focused on structural wind engineering as it relates to improving curtain wall systems in tall buildings to reduce water penetration. He has also done some research on downburst wind effects on transmission towers, research sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    His career goal is to become a global consulting structural engineer with expertise in structural wind engineering applications that help improve the resilience of infrastructures. Ultimately, making the world a better place is his life’s mission and he plans to realize this by building a civil engineering career focused on improving the resilience and sustainability of current and new civil infrastructures while educating the next generation of civil engineers and influencing public policy in this regard.

    His commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering research includes volunteering at K12 STEM outreaches organized by the Wall of Wind team, and Extreme Events Institute. He also mentors’ students in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. It is important to him that there is more representation in engineering research, especially in the field of wind engineering.

    Aside from research and engineering, his interests include watching football, working out, and listening to afrobeat music.

  • Adonicah Cummings, Medicine, M.D.

    Adonicah “Dawnie” Cummings is a first-generation American and college graduate. Graduating from Florida International University with a bachelor’s in Biological Sciences and Natural and Applied Sciences has primed her for medical school. She is currently an M1 at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Neurosurgery, Pathology, and Obstetrics are the various fields that she finds interesting, and is look forward to exploring these specialties. Her passion for medicine grew from her love of humanity. While volunteering at homeless shelters , she was exposed to the effects that social factors have on health. Socially disadvantaged individuals are more prone to disparities in health; hence it is vital to close social gaps that generate those health gaps. She believes diversity, equity, and inclusion are important in any field—especially medicine. Becoming socially aware and culturally competent is the bare minimum of her plans to promote health, close health disparities, and advocate for patients.

  • Mekdelawit Deribe, Earth Systems Science, Ph.D.

    Mekdelawit Messay Deribe is a second year Ph.D. student in the department of Earth and Environment at Florida International University. Her research focuses on sustainable and equitable utilization of transboundary waters with a special focus on the Nile River basin. Equitable utilization of shared resources is at the heart of her research, and she uses holistic, transdisciplinary research design to develop inclusive, equitable, and sustainable water use frameworks. She also brings the same holistic way of thinking to my social advocacy efforts outside academia. She actively participates in mediums that create space for dialogue between citizens of the Nile River basin with the hopes of creating understanding, empathy, and a culture of peace to facilitate a more equitable and sustainable use of shared resources and peaceful coexistence. Embracing diversity, advancing equity, and ensuring inclusion are cornerstones for work in and outside of academia. Education is her first love and she sees herself advancing in academia and educational design. She has also discovered a niche area at the intersection of science and diplomacy where she hopes to contribute to science-based transboundary water governance in the Nile basin.

  • Noel Singh Dias, Public Health and Research, Ph.D.

    I'm Noel (He/Him), pursing my PhD in Public Health and Research Assistantship at the department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. 

     I have completed a BA in Sociology, Anthropology & Commerce, an MSc. in Psychology and a Post Graduate Diploma in Training & Development. I have close to 10 years of work experience in designing and delivering health and skill development interventions for communities and organizations. 

    Growing up as an intersectional minority, I have personally witnessed the impact of discrimination on the health and livelihood of marginalized populations. Drawing from these experiences, my research focuses on mental, physical and sexual healthof intersectional minorities (LGBTQIA+, women andpeople of colour). The long-term goal is to create developmental interventions that improve minority health and quality of life across the globe. 

     As institutional discrimination continues to foster inequalities, the world is in dire need of innovative leaders with empathic hearts. The values and competencies I have developed across my personal, professional and academic life prepare me to take on these leadership roles with a mission to help people experience equity, inclusion, and prosperity. 

  • Kerrie Hooper, Engineering and Computing Education, Ph.D.

    Kerrie Hooper is a second-year doctoral student in the Engineering and Computing Education Program at the School of Universal Computing, Construction, and Engineering Education (SUCCEED). Her research focuses on AI ethics education, women’s careers in computing, and arts-based approaches to STEM education. She aspires to be a data scientist, entrepreneur, and leader in the AI education space. She believes that technology should work for all and that a DEI lens is necessary for approaching various technological challenges to positively impact her areas of focus. She endeavors to use her skills and opportunities to bring unique perspectives and promote interdisciplinary and culturally representative paradigms in computing.

Terrance Lane- 3rd year Psychology major
  • Terrence Lane, Psychology, Ph.D.
    Terrance is primarily interested in exploring how social supports and levels of engagement may impact the overall mental health of children & families from low-income and underserved communities. His research work mainly focuses on young children with/at-risk for externalizing behavior disorders (e.g., ADHD, CD, ODD) and how their parents can be used to promote more distal outcomes. His subsidiary interests include exploring the disruptive behaviors and socio-emotional outcomes among youth to curb the time spent outside of school. Once licensed, he intends on expanding his career as both a sound clinician and consultant, providing assessment and treatment services as well as consultation to individuals beyond just the discipline of psychology. Ultimately, Terrance’s long-term career goal is to use research to inform policy and treatment decisions associated with disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. His dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion can be seen throughout his work. Since deciding to pursue clinical psychology as a career Terrance has committed to working in communities that have the most demand for services (e.g., inner-city). Additionally, Terrance has noted the importance of representation within these communities. He hopes that by increasing the number of Black men across disciplines the next generation of Black youth will aim for the stars due to seeing folks that looks just like them.
  • Kendra Morancy, International Relations, Ph.D.
    Kendra Morancy is a 5th-year doctoral candidate studying International Relations. Her research areas include immigration, global health, human trafficking and Africa/African Diaspora. After she graduates, she hopes to use her writing and analysis skills to support social and economic growth in disadvantaged groups within the U.S. and abroad
  • Deidre Okeke, Epidemiology, Ph.D.

    Deidre Okeke is a second-year Epidemiology student in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. Before her doctoral pursuits, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from George Washington University and a Master of Public Health (MPH) here at Florida International University (FIU). Upon graduating from FIU’s MPH program, she began her career in academia overseeing public health admissions and later progressed to teaching students in the practice-based portion of FIU’s Online MPH program.

    As a doctoral student, her research interest centers around understanding social media use and its connection to mental health. For her dissertation, she plans to examine the role of various indirect and direct effects of discrimination in social media on depressive symptoms experienced by Hispanic emerging adults within collegiate settings. She hopes that her work not only helps to steer the development of mental health interventions that are relevant and key for this target population, but that it paves the way for further research involving other vulnerable populations.

    After earning her doctoral degree, she plans to use her training in a non-conventional way. With a background in health disparities, experience in teaching, and a passion for communication, she wishes to turn her classroom into a global audience and educate others through broadcast journalism as a CNN medical correspondent. Such a position will allow her platform to bring attention to issues concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that far extend the areas of health. She hopes her publicized efforts help bring screen time to DEI matters and create discourse and awareness on the topic, to eventually disrupt processes of marginalization and minoritization.

  • Patience Paul, Biomedical Science, Ph.D.

    Patience Ngozi Paul is a 4th-year Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Science Ph.D. program, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM) FIU. Her undergraduate was at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, where she received her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology. She is part of the Rosen lab group in the Department of Cellular Biology and Pharmacology where she is contributing to ongoing research efforts in the lab. Her research focuses on the transport of arsinothricin (AST), an arsenic-based antibiotic. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music and reading novels.

  • David Riera, Curriculm and Instruction, Ph.D.

    David Riera is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at Florida International University, he leverages his passion for research, conservation, and education to be an advocate for justice, access, inclusion, diversity and equity across STEM research, teaching, and learning. He holds six collegiate degrees and eleven professional certifications (from veterinary technician to open water deep-sea diver) in various STEM and industrial disciplines, which he utilized in partnership with scientific, environmental, and education leaders to increase the presence and participation of underserved students/emergent professionals through initiatives and activism. His service in the United States Marine Corps as a Combat Veteran supported his efforts to be a First-Generation Afro-Hispanic college graduate and has driven him to continue to serve in his community in numerous capacities. David drives to engage the public through environmental and agricultural education, and his relentless work tackling various social and ecological justice issues (like environmental racism, urban de-greening, food desertification), and is committed to co-creation, distribution, and preservation of cultural knowledge, traditional ways of knowing, and inquiry-based research in navigating the politics of the world.

    David’s research focuses on understanding how self-identifying minoritized youth in Miami conceptualize, utilize, and potentially see themselves reflected in science culture and or becoming a professional in science.  David's primary goals are located at the crossroads where science, education, advocacy, and nature intersect! As a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow David seeks to work alongside a diverse and passionate team of change agents, co-cultivate opportunities for graduate students to build new tables of power, to ensure that their voices--actions lead to immediate and sustainable change, and help build platforms for better communication y acción atravesando la industria educative (and action across the education industry). David cree que lo más crítico en el desarrollo del bienestar humano es las conexiones con nuestras familias, comunidades, y cultural para fortalecer los valores intrínsecos que apoyan la tierra, el mar, y tu espiritu/alma (believes that what is most critical in the development of human well-being is the connections with our families, communities, and cultures that strengthen the intrinsic values ​​that support the land, the sea, and the spirit/soul). This is why David hopes to build a teaching and learning facility dedicated to the (re)construction of human connectedness to each other, food/water, their cultures/heritage/language, and the world around them.

    David’s daily J.E.D.I. efforts as a student, scientist, teacher, and advocate in academic spaces lean into Bryan Stevenson’s four pillars for sustained change 1) embracing uncomfortably, 2) remaining proximate, 3) changing the narrative, and 4) remaining hopeful… Hope, as Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption said, is a “dangerous thing.” David has always thought to himself: dangerous to whom? The true danger comes from the zero-sum game—that is the current culture of the academy, where ‘if you have it, then I can’t have it’ prevails. This attitude drives a notion that folx need to ‘fit in,’ but if ‘fitting in’ means being surrounded by what Iris Marion Young calls the Five Faces of Oppression… exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, violence, and cultural imperialism by yourself—where you feel more like a fixture in a room, part of a show-and-tell, an exotic display—in a space that does not reflect you as a complete person and only values you as a token, then authentic ‘belonging’ remains lost.  Challenging the notions and realities here is not found within our willingness to participate in the game (to ‘fit in’) but in our wanting/longing to change the game (to belong). Belonging means sitting inside the square made from Stevenson’s aforementioned pillars. David’s commitment is said to be similar to that of the mythical minotaur, serving in the middle of an academic maze, acting as a guardian and a critical caretaker of this space, where belonging is possible. In David’s conclusive and lived experiences, J.E.D.I. work is a [R(e)]Evolution! It is not acceptable to only ‘be seen’, the need for human connections, comunidad (community), y pertenencia (belonging) has to occur each and every day if we are all to enjoy your--my--our tomorrow… together—juntos!

Accacia Russell-1st year Social Welfare
  • Accacia Russell, Social Welfare, Ph.D.

    Accacia Russell is a second-year doctoral student in the Social Welfare program at Stempel College at FIU. She has received Dean recognition for her background in social work obtaining both her bachelor's and master's in the field, and interdisciplinary training through the Behavioral Health Workforce Fellowship as well as Congressional recognition for international scholarship obtainments such as the Benjamin A. Gilman award. Accacia is currently a funded graduate student researcher working on projects such as Enhancing Work Based Learning, Interdependent Living Skills, and Universal Design in Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Her research interests include exploring and analyzing symptoms of hopelessness in college students to better aid in developing preventative care for suicidality and securing higher retention rates for minoritized and first-generation college students. 


  • Donisha Smith, Cognitive Neuroscience, Ph.D.

    Donisha Smith is a fourth-year graduate student in FIU’s Cognitive Neuroscience Ph.D. program. Additionally, she is currently being mentored by Dr. Angela Laird and is a member of FIU’s Neuroinformatics and Brain Connectivity (NBC) Lab. Her long-term professional plan is to become a university professor and engage in research endeavors that will improve machine learning methods that could detect biomarkers in functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) images for early detection and diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. She believes that by using machine learning methods to identify unique subgroups in diverse neuropsychiatric population clinicians may be able to better tailor individual treatment plans for their patients to improve outcomes. Moreover, because of her passion for teaching and research, her goal is to guide and mentor future generations of masters and doctoral students in the research process. 

  • Aubrey Stewart, International and Public Affairs, Ph.D.

    Aubrey Stewart is a second-year PhD student in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at the Florida International University (FIU), where he is pursuing his doctoral studies in Public Affairs through the US State Department's Fulbright Scholarship. His research interest is focused on collaborative governance, citizen security, performance management and social economics. These include topics such as leadership, performance data use, social investment, e-identification and community safety and security. Fueled by these interests, Aubrey pursued a Master’s degree in Comparative Politics and Political Theory, a Bachelor’s degree in Political Leadership, Strategy and Management and various professional development certifications from The University of the West Indies, Mona, in Jamaica and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

    Prior to joining the FIU graduate student family, Aubrey worked as a Data Scientist and Research Fellow within Ministry of National Security and the Office of the Prime Minister in Jamaica, and has a long history of community mobilization and development. Through his unbroken years of community service and mobilization, in 2018, he received the Queen’s Young Leader Award for Community Development from Her Majesty the Queen of England, which recognizes exceptional young leaders across the world who have displayed exemplary community leadership and utilize their skills to transform lives. This followed well on his Prime Minister's Youth Awards for Excellence in Leadership which he received in 2010. Aubrey lives by the Marcus Garvey inspired mantra - “There is no height to which we cannot climb by using the active intelligence of our minds.” Aubrey’s future career goal is to continue his service as a policy development practitioner and to advance the development of sustainable policies aimed at advancing organizational diversity and social development.
Zharia Thomas.png
  • Zharia Thomas, Developmental Science, Ph.D.

    Zharia Thomas is a 3rd year doctoral student in the Developmental Science program. Her mission lies in investigating the impact of factors contributing to disparities on Black women’s health and overall well-being through examining racial stereotypical depictions, such as the strong Black woman (SBW) schema. She hopes to use her research to gain insight about and communicate the critical unmet needs of Black women.