The National Science Foundation has awarded UMass Dartmouth doctoral student Akira Harper a coveted Graduate Research Fellowship.

Harper’s selection "is a highly significant national accomplishment" that places her among an elite group of fellows who have gone on to distinguished careers in STEM or STEM education, according to a press release from the university.

“This National Science Foundation award means that I have begun to de-settle spaces in STEM. When I stay de-settle, I mean shifting everyone's perspective, in the STEM field, on who these awards are traditionally given to,” said Harper. “In my life I grew up with more hardships than blessings, so this award and working with my mentor, Dr. Kayumova, in this graduate program is affording me with the opportunities to affect change for my community for generations to come.”

This award provides three years of financial support for Harper to engage in a research project with her advisor. Harper’s proposal was based on her research on science identity development among culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

“I hope to gain a more powerful critical voice and understanding of how students, who look like me, can enter the spaces of STEM education and excel from K-12 and continue during their undergraduate and graduate careers. Our STEM field needs critical scholars to question and challenge what a socially just and equitable education looks like, for students of color, in terms of resources, funds, and opportunities."

Harper said as a black woman and first-generation doctoral candidate she hopes to contribute to STEM education in new ways. Harper previously earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UMass Dartmouth.

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is NSF’s oldest program, dating back to 1952. The program has supported over 50,000 U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents to pursue advanced degrees in science and engineering. Among its alumni are over 40 Nobel laureates, over 450 members of the National Academy of Sciences, thousands of science and engineering faculty, and many notable individuals in industry, government, and the non-profit sector.

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