Changemaker James: Pursuing a Doctorate in a STEM Field

The Next Generation to Drive Change:

Since its inception, iMentor has served nearly 38,000 students across the country. Today, many of these incredible individuals are now members of the workforce, drivers of change in their communities, and proud iMentor alumni. As associate director of development for iMentor NYC, Allison Dorf-Ferrandis recently had the opportunity to reconnect with four iMentor NYC alumni, and they had a lot to share.

The alumni talked about what they’re up to now, reminisced about their first impressions of their mentors, reflected on what life has been like during the pandemic, and looked ahead to where they see themselves in 10 years. Keep reading to learn more about James, an inspiring iMentor alum in the next generation of leaders.

For more from these inspiring young professionals, join us 10/28 for iMentor Alumni: The Next Generation to Drive Change: A panel moderated by Emmy-Award Winning Reporter, Maria Hinojosa featuring Jada, James, Ashlyn and Luisais.

After graduating from high school in the Bronx, James, a first-generation college student whose family is from the Dominican Republic, received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Stony Brook University and went on to graduate from Yale University, where he is now pursuing a Ph.D. in physical chemistry.

Looking back at his time in the iMentor program, James said that at first, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He remembered that meeting his mentor, Kyle, was the first time he was getting to know someone who was college educated, and that piqued his interest.

Kyle supported James during the college admissions process and encouraged James set his sights on long-term goals. James says the most important piece of advice he took from his mentor was to consider getting a second degree after college. “I don’t think many students are asked to think about that at such a young age, but my mentor definitely made me start to think about the importance of planning and continuous learning,” said James.

James credits iMentor with helping him understand the importance of mentoring and seeking support as he pursued his ambitions. Over the years, he sought out additional mentors, such as his chemistry teacher in high school, an educational opportunity program academic advisor, and the chair of the chemistry department at Stony Brook, all of whom influenced his decision to pursue a doctorate degree in physical chemistry.

James has just completed his first-year Ph.D. teaching duties, leading Zoom sessions and getting to know his students virtually at first, and finally in person. He’s excited to be starting his second year as a part of a chemical biology training grant. James is considering a few different career paths – he can see himself working in private industrial research, the development of science policy, or even pursing a post doctorate with ambitions of becoming a professor and forming his own research group.

During the pandemic, James became part of a community on Twitter of people of color in the STEM field (@BlackInChem), and he was struck by the gap in opportunity and representation. “It’s lonely to be a person of color in the STEM field. There’s only you and a few other students of color,” he said. James is interested in researching this disparity and becoming an civically engaged scientist in the future. We are excited to follow his journey.

James' story is part of a collection of stories highlighting a few iMentor alumni who are driving change. Check back on our blog to read the next feature!