Howard University Students Gain Valuable Research Experience, PhD Help and Post-Doctoral Fellowship with Help from CCICADA

Strong Relationships with Minority Serving Institutions like Howard University Are Helping CCICADA Train the Next Generation of Homeland Security Researchers

Vijay Chaudhary, who is entering his junior year at Howard University, describes his research on the reliability of walkthrough metal detectors. He is one of many students at Howard who have benefited from that university’s relationship with the CCICADA homeland-security research group. Photo credit: Christopher Biddle

Vijay Chaudhary, who is entering his junior year at Howard University, describes his research on the
reliability of walkthrough metal detectors. He is one of many students at Howard who have benefited
from that university’s relationship with the CCICADA homeland-security research group. Photo credit: Christopher Biddle

Vijay Chaudhary was understandably shy.

A sophomore in the math department at Howard University, Chaudhary faced an intimidating audience of high-level mathematicians and data-science researchers at CCICADA’s 7th Annual Research Retreat in April 2016.  He was one of four panelists who discussed CCICADA’s education accomplishments.

Speaking in a soft voice that had people leaning forward in their seats, Chaudhary summed up his experience with CCICADA’s 2015 Research Experience for Undergraduates in a few short words: “Last year was like Research 101.”

This was his modest way of saying that he had played a starring role in a research project of national significance at Rutgers University on the reliability of walkthrough metal detectors. His mentor on that project, CCICADA post-doctoral associate Christie Nelson, quickly chimed in: “He did a great job for me. We are getting his work published.”

Dr. Abdul-Aziz Yakubu of Howard University has worked with CCICADA and DIMACS to organize many research workshops in the US and Africa. He is seen here at an Ebola workshop held in March 2016 in Senegal, West Africa, that he helped to organize. Photo credit: Michael Washington

Dr. Abdul-Aziz Yakubu of Howard University has worked with CCICADA and DIMACS to organize many research workshops in the US and Africa. He is seen here at an Ebola workshop held in March 2016 in Senegal, West Africa, that he helped to organize. Photo credit: Michael Washington

Chaudhary is a recent example of scores of students with five minority-serving institutions (MSIs) like Howard who have received guidance, research experience, and financial support from CCICADA. This support has been underwritten with grants from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Educating the next generation of homeland security researchers is a mission of great importance to CCICADA and DHS.

Expectations Exceeded

Dr. Abdul-Aziz Yakubu is a mathematics professor at Howard University who has watched a parade of his students advance in their academic and professional careers with help from CCICADA and its sister organization DIMACS.

CCICADA has “exceeded my expectations” as a “reliable research and educational resource for our students and faculty members,” Yakubu said, adding, “Thanks to CCICADA my students and I now have a funded research and educational interest in bio-surveillance and disease dynamics.”

Two other students who have benefited recently from CCICADA’s support, expertise and connections are Nourridine Siewe, who this year received his PhD in mathematics from Howard; and Roshil Paudyal, who graduated this year from Howard’s Mathematics Department.

On a scale of 1-5, Siewe gives CCICADA a “5,” saying: “My experience with Howard University/CCICADA has influenced my academic work and future career in the most positive way.”

PhD and Post-Doc Success

He said this support was critical to his success in obtaining his PhD and to the recent publication of a co-authored research paper in the Journal of Mathematical Biosciences, titled: Immune Response to Infection by Leishmania: A Mathematical Model. Leishmaniasis is a parasitical, tropical disease spread by the bite of sand fleas that causes ulcers of the skin, mouth, and nose. It can be horribly disfiguring.

Most importantly at this stage of Nourridine’s career, the Howard/CCICADA support and connections have landed him an enviable position as a two-year, post-doctoral associate with The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), an international research collaborative that investigates solutions to problems in the life sciences.

“He is the first PhD student in the Mathematics Department of Howard University to obtain such a post-doc at a national institute,” professor Yakubu said proudly.

Yakubu is also proud of Paudyal, who was one of the first Howard University undergraduate students to participate in CCICADA’s annual Research Experience for Undergraduates. The Center’s guidance and support has helped Paudyal find a promising path to a PhD.

“Many of our former students have already joined a promising new generation of homeland security researchers.”
Dr. Midge Cozzens, CCICADA Education Director

He recently accepted an offer of admission to pursue a PhD in pure mathematics at the University of California at San Diego. To boot, he will receive, in his first year alone, combined financial support of $34,000 from fellowships and work as a teaching assistant.

Remember Chaudhary? The shy Howard University undergraduate who we met at the beginning of this article?

He opened up later during the Research Retreat “poster session” when asked about his experiments with walkthrough metal detectors (WTMDs) at CCICADA’s 2015 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). Select students from CCICADA’s MSI partners tackle real research projects at these summer-long experiences, which are organized by CCICADA and its sister organization DIMACS at Rutgers University.

Research Lessons

When asked about his first experience with field research at the 2015 REU, Chaudhary said he learned a great deal from daily group discussions about the research and he followed the discipline of presenting results weekly.

Perhaps the most important thing he learned is that scientific research is never done. Each project is a step in a learning continuum that builds on the progress made by earlier research.  He said his research, rather than reaching a decisive conclusion, opened the door to many new questions about the reliability of walkthrough metal detectors and how they should be tested.

“It’s scary in a sense,” Chaudhary said. “You start with a hypothesis not sure if you are going to come to a conclusion. Even in this case, we could not conclude everything.”

CCICADA and DIMACS are currently holding their 2016 Research for Undergraduates program at Rutgers University.  CCICADA’s other educational programs include RECONNECT (current-research workshops for educators), graduate student training & development, student internships at homeland-security agencies, development of classroom modules for undergraduate and graduate programs, curriculum development, summer research programs for minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and educational programs for professionals.

CCICADA Education Director Midge Cozzens said educating and training students, teachers and professionals about how to conduct homeland security research and apply it to real-world settings is one of the Center’s most important missions.

“If we just sit on the laurels of our current research, who will be there to pick up the torch and carry on the work we do?” Cozzens asked rhetorically. “Tens of thousands of individuals over the past eight years have benefited from our homeland-security education programs. “Many of our former students have already joined a promising new generation of homeland security researchers.”

Long-standing Relationship

The relationship between Howard University and DHS-supported centers extends back a decade, starting with the predecessor DHS Center to CCICADA, DyDAn (Center for Dynamic Data Analysis). In that decade, many Howard students have benefitted from this relationship, just like Vijay, Nourridine, and Roshil.

One exciting outcome of this partnership is that some of the students supported through the center have gone on to become faculty themselves at minority serving Institutions. For example, Professor Bassidy Dembele is now on the faculty at Grambling State University and Professor Shari Wiley is now on the faculty at Hampton University.

 

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