Five Inducted into Bouchet Graduate Honor Society

April 12, 2021

By Katya Hrichak

Doctoral candidates Christopher Berardino, Houston Claure, Irma Fernandez, Robert Swanda, and Tibra Wheeler
From left to right: Doctoral candidates Christopher Berardino, Houston Claure, Irma Fernandez, Robert Swanda, and Tibra Wheeler

Five Cornell doctoral candidates have been selected for induction into the Cornell chapter of the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society.

The Bouchet Society recognizes outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate. Its network of scholars exemplifies academic and personal excellence, character, service, and advocacy for students who traditionally have been underrepresented in the academy.

The scholars were inducted at the annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education held virtually April 8-9 by Yale University. During the two-day program, all five of the inductees and Graduate School Dean’s Scholars Olumayowa (Bam) Willoughby, a doctoral candidate in Africana studies, and Carolina Gil, a doctoral student in development sociology, gave poster and oral presentations.

Cornell’s 2021 Bouchet Scholars:

  • Christopher Berardino, English language and literature: Berardino’s research theorizes the existence of a modern multiethnic tradition in American literature of the 1930s and 40s.
  • Houston Claure, mechanical engineering: Claure’s research focuses on developing artificial intelligence algorithms for enhanced human-robot interaction within teams.
  • Irma Fernandez, biochemistry, molecular, and cell biology: Fernandez’s research focuses on the role of mitochondrial Sirtuin 5 in cancer metabolism.
  • Robert Swanda, biomedical and biological sciences: Swanda’s research focuses on the sulfur amino acid response as it relates to cellular metabolism, alternative translation, and cell death.
  • Tibra Wheeler, biomedical engineering: Wheeler’s research focuses on determining the role of the immune response in osteoarthritis (OA) and applying this knowledge to create therapeutic agents to treat OA.

“Being selected for this prestigious society is an accomplishment, and we are proud of this year’s inductees,” said Sara Xayarath Hernández, associate dean for inclusion and student engagement. “In addition to becoming part of Cornell’s chapter, these students now join a network of motivated Bouchet Scholars committed to making academia a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable place for all.”

Recognizing the significance of belonging to this network, both Swanda and Wheeler anticipate using their places within to achieve excellence both for themselves and for others in academia.

“This Society will allow each of us to mutually learn from one another to become better advocates in our own circles while also allowing these circles to blend and evolve,” said Swanda. “I am excited to be involved with colleagues who advocate for advancements in higher education.”

“It’s reaffirming for me as a Black Ph.D. student to be recognized in the same likeness of the first African American to receive his doctorate degree from an American university,” Wheeler said. “Dr. Edward Bouchet set the stage for Black doctoral students after him as I hope to do for those who come after me.”

Yale and Howard universities established the Bouchet Society in 2005 to recognize the life and academic contributions of Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African American to receive a doctorate from a U.S. university. He earned his degree in physics from Yale in 1876.

Outside of the society’s founding universities, Cornell was among the earliest universities to establish a chapter of the Bouchet Society, inducting its first members in 2006.

This story is also available on the Cornell Chronicle website.