Sigma Xi at Howard University

In honor of Black History Month, Courtney Robinson discusses the work and role of the Howard University Sigma Xi Chapter at this historically black institution in Washington, DC. Robinson has served as the chapter's president since July 1, 2016, and is an associate professor in Howard's Department of Biology. 

Howard Chapter

Howard ChapterThe Howard University Chapter of Sigma Xi has been dedicated to excellence in research since its establishment in 1957. Our 35 charter members include barrier-breaking African American and women researchers in diverse areas of science such as anthropology (Dr. W. Montague Cobb), physics (Dr. Frank Coleman), behavioral neuroscience (Dr. Leslie Hicks), parasitology and protistology (Dr. Margaret A. Stirewalt and Dr. Harold Finley), genetics (Dr. Sarah Bedichek Pipkin) and cardiovascular physiology (Dr. Edward W. Hawthorne). 

Our current membership reflects the same zeal for research in a broad array of fields including mechanical engineering, reproductive biology, bioinformatics, as well as optics and photonics.

Sigma Xi’s mission to promote companionship among scientists and engineers while supporting rigorous research across professional levels aligns well with Howard University’s commitment to research that benefits the global community and quality STEM education. 

Howard Chapter 3

What does the Howard University Sigma Xi Chapter do to promote and improve diversity in research?

As a chapter located at a historically black university, the Howard University Chapter has long been instrumental in supporting research by members of underrepresented groups. Our current activities include partnering with other organizations on campus that promote research opportunities for undergraduates, such as Meeting of the Brains, founded by undergraduate Sigma Xi members Shirley Lakpa and Morinne Osborne. 

Additionally, we co-sponsor events designed to engage people from diverse science and lay backgrounds, such as the “Discovering African Genomic Diversity Workshop” with the W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory, led by Sigma Xi member Dr. Fatimah Jackson, and the “HU-OSU Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Mini-Symposium” with the Howard University Department of Biology and The Ohio State University. 

Howard Chapter 4

Does the chapter leadership have suggestions for how the Society can improve diversity within its membership and within the scientific research community in general? Do they have ideas about how to improve the Society’s outreach as it promotes the public understanding of science?

The Howard University Chapter has an active associate member population comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students. As a chapter, we believe that we must support the interests of young scientists in order to broaden participation in science and engineering. Most of our full members mentor early researchers in their laboratories and many facilitate classroom activities shown to improve STEM learning, such as active learning and course-based undergraduate research experiences.

The Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference is a great way to recognize the research achievements of student researchers. Additionally, we believe that an increased Sigma Xi presence at research conferences that highlight research by students from underrepresented groups such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the National Diversity in STEM Conference (SACNAS – Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) would increase visibility and interest in the organization.  

Photo captions

1st picture: Howard University Sigma Xi 2017 Chapter Annual Banquet. 
2nd picture: Howard University Sigma Xi Chapter 2017 Annual Banquet speaker Georgia Dunston, on left, with Past President Agnes Day. 
3rd picture: Howard University Sigma Xi Chapter 2016 banquet speaker Dr. Margaret E. Tolbert. 
4th picture: Howard University–Ohio State University symposium presenters.