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Hector Garcia is passionate about increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in engineering. Robin Zheng wants to help kids think critically and ethically, framing the lenses through which they see the world. Alana LeBron is trying to break down the invisibility of Latinos on campus and create broader dialogues with other graduate students. Nicolette Bruner’s personal mission is to help opposing members of a community reconcile their differences. Charles Senteio left his consulting career to pursue a meaningful path in public health in underrepresented populations. Shanta Robinson is creating an academic support system for homeless youth of color. Luciana Aenasoaie tries to understand life in the post-industrial city across political and geographical boundaries.

These are a few of this year’s inductees into the prestigious Bouchet Honor Society. Named for Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African-American doctoral recipient in the United States (Physics, Yale University, 1876), the Society recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. More than 50 members have been inducted in the five years that U-M has hosted a chapter.

The Bouchet Scholars exemplify academic and personal excellence, foster environments of support and serve as examples of scholarship, leadership, character, service and advocacy for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the academy. Larry Rowley, Academic Program Officer for Diversity and Mentoring at Rackham Graduate School and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Afroamerican & African Studies, spearheads the Bouchet Honor Society chapter at U-M. He comments, “It is great that we have an institution that honors this extraordinary achievement. One of my favorite essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the uses of great men, emphasizing how we honor and recognize the extraordinary and great people not just so we can idolize them but so that we too can be great. This program is a living tribute to one such person.”

Bouchet played a significant role in the education of African-Americans during the last quarter of the 19th century through his teaching and mentoring activities. He was one among a small number of African-Americans who achieved advanced training and education within decades of the Civil War. Lilian Mitchall Allen, Ph.D., a student of Bouchet’s, recalled that, “He was reputed by many to be the most brilliant educator in all of Ohio. Certainly it is impossible to assess the far reaching influence of Dr. Bouchet upon the hundreds of persons whose lives he touched.”

Dr. Rowley continues, “Graduate students are taught that research, teaching and service are the three pillars of academia. The students inducted into the Bouchet Honor Society have demonstrated excellence in all three, emphasizing a commitment to use their intellectual gifts to serve others and advocate for important causes.”

Alum Dr. Jonathan Madison, a senior member of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, was inducted into the Society in 2008, the first year of the Michigan Chapter. He reflects on being among the first inductees to the U-M chapter: “We had no clear idea what it would be or mean, but we developed very strong connections not only with U-M members but with those in other chapters around the country.”

Now an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, U-M alum Dr. Noelle Hurd says, “Being a member of this society is a tremendous honor. It is wonderful to be recognized for my accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom and being a member inspires me to continue striving for excellence in everything I do.”

Leading the Bouchet Honor Society for the past few years, Dr. Rowley can appreciate the commitment these students have to their academic and community work. He says, “It is an extreme pleasure to get to know these students on a personal level. Students that come to this university by virtue of being admitted have proven they are exceptional individuals. When watching them present materials, interacting with their peers, and even sitting on a plane with them, it struck me that the vast majority really want to use their abilities to give back to society and the community.”

The students have a great appreciation for their respective fields, but it is the ideals by which they are selected that make them similar, giving them a commonality by which to form a close association with each other. As Hector put it, echoing the sentiments of his fellow inductees, “I’m hoping for a great network of like-minded scholars and an opportunity to establish connections to a wide variety of research fields.”

“By connecting through the Bouchet Honor Society, we can strive to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Bouchet and continue to excel in our fields and serve our communities,” Luciana reflects.

“This is a great community of scholars to be a part of. I want this to be important.” Alana shares.

For details on the research, community activism and lives of many of the inductees, please follow their links. This year’s inductees include:

From left to right: Luciana Aenasoie, Nicolette Bruner, Hector Garcia-Ramirez, Alana LeBron, Shanta Robinson, Charles Senteio, Amber Williams, Robin Zheng. Not pictured: Aston Gonzalez. photo by Whitney J. Miller
From left to right: Luciana Aenasoie, Nicolette Bruner, Hector Garcia-Ramirez, Alana LeBron, Shanta Robinson, Charles Senteio, Amber Williams, Robin Zheng. Not pictured: Aston Gonzalez. photo by Whitney J. Miller