Bringing the Research Community Together at Florida A&M University

by Marijo Kent-First | Feb 28, 2020

Florida AM University

From left: Kendrick Desir, Nina Salgado, Michael Johnson, Marijo Kent-First, Maggie Bassey, Asijah Bellinger, and Tashaun Lindquest of Florida A&M University.

When I joined the Florida A&M University (FAMU) faculty in the fall of 2017, I saw an immediate opportunity for a symbiotic relationship between the university and Sigma Xi. I’ve been a Sigma Xi member since 1990 and was the president of the Mississippi State University Chapter. I knew FAMU had all the components that it takes to be a vibrant, active, and productive chapter.

FAMU is in an ideal location in the capital city of Tallahassee, nested in an area where STEM is promoted by the close proximity of Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College, undergraduate and graduate students are hungry for research experience and knowledge, and energetic faculty are ready to mentor students in their laboratories. As one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, FAMU’s faculty and student populations are also among the most diverse in the country.

In 2019, I accompanied two of my students, Nina Salgado and Ryan Schaffer, to Madison, Wisconsin, for the Sigma Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference. I served as a chapter delegate and delivered a lecture on my research pertaining to environmental inducers of testicular cancer. Nina presented a research poster on bladder cancer and Ryan presented a poster on the genetics of sex determination. I was also elected to be the associate director of Sigma Xi’s Comprehensive Colleges and Universities Constituency, beginning in July 2020.

Florida AM University

Members of the FAMU community with Marijo Kent-First, fourth from left, and Richard Alo, dean of FAMU College of Science and Technology, fifth from left. 


Timely for Black History month—on February 13, 2020—my colleagues and I held the first “interest meeting” to re-launch the FAMU Chapter of Sigma Xi. I was hoping to fill a room that held 20 individuals. Before the evening was over, our growing group was forced to move to a larger room! To date, the chapter has more than 65 members including more than 15 faculty and 50 graduate and undergraduate students. Most of these students are actively involved in research activities. Approximately 80 percent of this group are students and faculty that represent minorities in science.

High on the list of events that the chapter wishes to host is a world class speaker that will bring a level of excitement in science to the “Big Bend” area of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama that is rare. Other activities include Science Cafés that take advantage of the diversity of the faculty and student membership. 

Already the spirit of Sigma Xi is alive and well at FAMU. Students are forming their own executive board that will interact with the official executive board being established by the faculty.  Faculty and students work together to plan meetings and Sigma Xi sponsored events. Most importantly, the “ivory towers” that professors have been known to live in have been removed and the students can feel the excitement and inner glow that comes when a group of like-minded critical thinkers come together to discuss science and to learn from each other.

Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize the rich legacy that FAMU has in education today! Students at FAMU are particularly driven to succeed. They work hard and welcome guidance from a caring mentor. In view of this, the FAMU Chapter of Sigma Xi is gearing to promote and provide just that. The faculty are dedicated to the success of FAMU students. At FAMU it is said the “FAMU is FAM-U-LY” and indeed it is. Faculty that are serving on the FAMU Chapter of Sigma Xi executive board include myself (president), Caroline Odewumi, Jillian Pope, and Virginia Gottschalk. It is common to find each of these faculty in their offices surrounded by eager students discussing topics from science in general to problems in classes and even in their lives. FAMU professors are dedicated to the success of the students at the institution and failure is not a word in their vocabulary. 

Members of Sigma Xi are warm and eager to share their knowledge and excitement about science and research with others at any level. This characteristic fits well with FAMU and its mission to foster excellence in STEM-based education and research.  

Marijo Kent-First is part of the biology faculty at Florida A&M University and is leading the reactivation of the Sigma Xi Chapter on campus to serve those in north Florida and southwest Georgia. 


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