Mikayla Harris — a senior from Morgan State’s School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (SCMNS) — was awarded $15,000 from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).
Harris is one of 60 junior and senior STEM students across 44 universities who were awarded the Neil Armstrong Award of Excellence scholarship this year.
Founded in 1984, the ASF was created with a goal to “aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in technology and innovation by supporting the very best and brightest scholars in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while commemorating the legacy of America’s pioneering astronauts,” according to its website.
The senior biology major is Morgan State University’s second scholar to win the highly competitive scholarship. Last year, Micaela Fleetwood, who was also majored in biology, was awarded the scholarship.
“I wanted to apply to represent Morgan State as a Black woman in STEM,” Harris said in a press statement posted on the university’s website. “There is not enough biomedical research that includes black people, people of color, and other minority groups.”
Black infertility study
Harris’s STEM research focuses on the racial disparities in the health field, particularly infertility in Black women.
Black women are twice as likely as white women to struggle with infertility, according to a report published in the US National Library of Medicine. Only 11% of Black women have access to infertility treatments compared to 16% of white women, according to a 2015 ethnic-racial fertility gap study conducted by the Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Harris has studied discrimination and its impact on brain inflammation, stress hormones, and other inflammatory hormones, according to MSU.
Her HBCU influence
The young scholar is also a member of Morgan State’s RISE-REACHeS program.
The program provides mentoring and research opportunities to prepare STEM students for Ph.D. programs. Her work with the RISE program and MSU’s Student Research Center are her motivations to pursue science.
“Going into the Morgan RISE program, my eyes were opened to the various avenues that I could research in science and opportunities to explore my curiosities,” Harris said.
The ASF recipient also was inducted into the National Astronaut Scholar Honor Society. During her acceptance speech, she spoke about the impact of her HBCU education on her accomplishments.
“I want to emphasize how grateful I am for Morgan,” Harris said. “Morgan has definitely prepared me for opportunities like this scholarship and upon graduation. I will be prepared for opportunities to pursue what I really am interested in, which is helping my community and underrepresented individuals.”
Mikayla Harris is set to graduate a year early with her bachelor’s degree in Spring 2022. From there, she plans to pursue an MD-PhD degree with a particular interest in female infertility. She also plans to continue her research studies on racial health disparities.
Deidre Redhead is a junior journalism and international relations student at Stony Brook University. Her bylines include The Statesman and Mission Magazine.