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Doctoral Student Receives Fellowship Designed to Empower Women

University of South Florida PhD student Kiesha Pierre has been awarded the prestigious American Fellowship by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) – an award meant to help women overcome obstacles they may face in their pursuit of education.

The fellowship will assist Pierre cover basic living expenses – giving her the ability to fully focus on completing her PhD in environmental engineering. She says the award’s significance extends far beyond the financial assistance or national recognition. Instead, it’s a reminder of how far she’s come and the impact she hopes her journey can have on others.

“I’m honored to have received this fellowship from the AAUW,” she said. “I really hope that my story can be an inspiration to other women, especially minority women who may be in the STEM field, that you can pursue any goal you set your mind on.”

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Pierre followed in her sister’s footsteps and immigrated to the United States to pursue an undergraduate education. Thanks to scholarship assistance, she was able to attend Florida Memorial University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics. After going on to complete her master’s in mathematics from the University of Miami, Pierre taught at Bethune-Cookman University (BCU) in Daytona Beach. Some of her former BCU students are now enrolled in PhD programs at USF.

Pierre’s interest for preserving the environment led her to pursue a different field for her PhD. She gained acceptance into USF Professor Andres Tejada-Martinez, PhD, research lab. She is using computational fluid dynamics to study an oxidation ditch, a biological unit treatment process that uses microorganisms to remove organic matter and nitrogen from wastewater.

“We have to study how these processes work to be able to improve them,” she says. “With wastewater, once it’s been treated it’s discharged to surface water. So, we want to ensure that we have efficient treatment to protect our surface water quality, which protects human health and aquatic life. I enjoy the interdisciplinary aspects of applying my mathematics background and engineering experience to real-world challenges.”

Pierre expects to complete her PhD program next year and hopes to continue her work in wastewater treatment. She also plans to obtain an academic position to encourage young women and minority students to pursue STEM careers. Pierre believes mentoring and community are critical to student success and is thankful to AAUW as well as her advisors, peers, and support programs (Florida Education Fund’s McKnight Doctoral Fellowship Program, Sloan UCEM and NSF PIRE) offered at USF.

The AAUW is one of the world’s oldest leading supporters of graduate women’s education. This year, the organization awarded more than $4 million in fellowships and grants to approximately 260 scholars across the United States.

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