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The AGEP Transformation Alliance projects are collaborative research projects representing new strategic alliances of institutions and organizations. As an AGEP Pathway model, these institutions will combine their efforts to provide a structured mentoring and professional development program model that facilitates the transition and advancement of doctoral, post-doctoral, and early-career minority women faculty in STEM.

Please expand to learn more about the Principal Investigators for each Alliance member.

Dr. Allyson Leggett Watson serves as dean for the College of Education at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Prior to her arrival at FAMU, Dr. Watson served as interim chief academic officer and dean at USF St. Petersburg (USFSP), and at Northeastern State University (NSU) as an assistant dean and the first named endowed chair. Her educational background includes a master's (M.Ed.) and doctoral (Ph.D.) degree in educational administration, curriculum, and supervision from the University of Oklahoma. Her baccalaureate degree is from Bethune-Cookman University in Elementary Education.

Dr. Watson served as assistant director at the University of Oklahoma-Center for Educational & Community Renewal (now K-20 Center). Additionally, her educational career and experience include teaching 1st-8th grade in urban areas.

Dr. Watson has focused her research on urban education, faculty of color in higher education, and urban school and university partnerships. She is a full professor and tenured graduate faculty with a substantial amount of teaching experience in courses such as educational research, advanced educational measurements and statistics, public school relations, and instructional strategies.

In 2010, Dr. Watson founded the Teaching & Urban Reform Network (TURN), a program to prepare pre-service teachers in urban education and encourage effective pedagogical practices. This work has served as a platform for successful acquisition of grants, research presentations, journal articles, and a book chapter.

Dr. Watson is a 2014 Pinnacle Woman of the Year awardee from the Mayor's Commission on the Status of Women, a recipient of the “40 under 40 Most Influential People in Oklahoma” award from Oklahoma Magazine and the 2012-2013 recipient for the College of Education Outstanding Faculty in Service award from NSU. In 2015, Dr. Watson coordinated a team of educators from across the United States to help establish the first-ever robotics lab for girls in north Haiti. This sustainable work has empowered girls and women in STEM. Through this innovative initiative, Haiti sent the first competitive girls team in the history of the nation to compete in the VEX World Championship Robotics Competition. In the Summer of 2018, USFSP College of Education launched an inaugural STEM robotics camp for students in 5th through 8th grade to enrich academic and experiential learning within the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay region.

Dr. Watson was named the Girls, Incorporated STEM Woman of the Year for 2018. Following that prestigious recognition, USFSP’s College of Education celebrated the grand opening of a state-of-the-art innovative STEM lab for all future educators, educational leaders, and organizational partners to engage and experience creative and innovative discovery firsthand. In 2020, the FAMU College of Education will open a state-of-the-art STEAM Lab to prepare urban educators and leaders in STEAM integration.

Dr. Watson was the recipient of the 2019 Legacy Award in Education at the Legacy Gala in St. Petersburg, Florida. Additionally, she was a 2019 Woman of Distinction from the St. Petersburg, Florida community. Dr. Watson is an inaugural alumnus of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, former (2010-13) national alumni president and 2014 past president of the Gates Millennium Scholars Alumni Association.

Dr. Endya B. Stewart is a Professor in the Department of Secondary Education, Technology Education, and Foundations (SETEF) at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU). She serves as the Coordinator of the Curriculum & Instruction Master’s degree program within the department. She also serves as the Coordinator of Strategic Initiatives for the College of Education. She has served the College of Education in a number of leadership capacities, including Associate Dean and SETEF Department Chair. Dr. Stewart currently teaches classroom assessment and research methods courses. Her research interests include academic outcomes, African American education, minority student success, neighborhood- and school-level influences, teacher education, and teacher quality. As part of the FL-AGEP Alliance, Dr. Stewart serves as the Project Coordinator for FAMU. In this role, Dr. Stewart assists with the coordination of project personnel and completion of grant-related tasks at FAMU and partner institutions.

Dr. Helena Mariella-Walrond is the Provost and Senior Vice President at Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU). As Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Mariella-Walrond oversees all academic and research programs at the institution.

Prior to her appointment as Provost and Senior Vice President, Dr. Mariella-Walrond served as the Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness at the University. In this capacity, Dr. Mariella-Walrond oversaw the development of the University Strategic and Assessment Frameworks, as a foundation for the annual planning, budgeting, and assessment programs. Prior to her appointment to Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, Dr. Mariella-Walrond served as Associate Provost. In that position, her major responsibility included a complete revision of the University’s general education core as well as the development of an academic plan for the Division of Academic Affairs.

Having joined Bethune-Cookman University in 1997, Dr. Mariella-Walrond spent 16 years in the College of Education, first as faculty and later as Coordinator for Assessment and Accreditation. In the College of Education, Dr. Mariella-Walrond taught courses in foundations, curriculum, and research.

An member in all aspects of SACSCOC and the Florida Department of Education reaccreditation reviews, Dr. Mariella-Walrond has presented at numerous conferences and workshops and most recently, she is the co-author, with two of her former students, of a manuscript, titled “The Legacy Lives, ‘I leave you a thirst for education’ Dr. Bethune’s vision in action: A study of the impact of an HBCU on teachers and educational leaders.”

A native of Vӓsterås, Sweden, Dr. Mariella-Walrond received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, her M.A. in Anthropology from Wake Forest University and the Ph.D. in Foundations of Education from the University of South Carolina.

Dr. Herbert W. Thompson, Professor of Biology, serves as Associate Provost and Dean of the College of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics at Bethune-Cookman University. A native of Daytona Beach, Florida, he graduated from Bethune-Cookman with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and received his master’s and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Biology from what is now Clark-Atlanta University. Prior to his appointment as Dean, he served as Chair of the Department of Biology and Project Director of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at B-CU.

Dr. Thompson has served as a committee chairman in the university’s re-accreditation process and oversaw a revamping of the STEM programs within the College of Science, Engineering and Mathematics. As Dean, he spearheaded the establishment of the new Department of Integrated Environmental Science which began offering undergraduate courses in 2009.

Dr. Thompson has received funding for various projects from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Human Resource and Services Administration (HRSA), the U.S. Forest Service and the National Science Foundation, among others. He served on the task force which brought Bethune-Cookman its first graduate program, an M.S. in Transformative Leadership, and chaired the task force which developed and implemented the graduate program for the M.S. in Integrated Environmental Science.

Dr. Thompson has received the “President’s Award for Excellence” on two occasions since joining the faculty at Bethune-Cookman University. In 2014, he received the Whitehouse Champion of Change Award as a part of the Whitehouse HBCU Initiative, for outstanding work to cultivate a rich learning environment and build initiatives that promote success.

A strong student advocate, Dr. Thompson continues to mentor students and faculty. Over the years, he has guided many individuals to careers in medicine, STEM research and STEM education.

Dr. Kos is the Associate Dean, University Graduate School, Associate Vice President, Office of Research and Economic Development at Florida International University. She oversees academic and professional development activities for all masters and doctoral programs. She is currently the co-PI of the National Sciences Foundation Bridge to the Doctorate program and National Institutes of General Medicine T32 Transdisciplinary Biomolecular and Biomedical Sciences Training Program that aim to train and mentor underrepresented minority graduate students for careers in STEM and the biomedical research workforce.

Dr. Kos is also a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University. She received a BS in Biology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and a PhD in Neurobiology from the University of California, Berkeley. She received a Fogarty fellowship to pursue post-doctoral studies at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development where she investigated the molecular basis of early embryonic development using the mouse as a model system. She then moved to the National Human Genome Research Institute where she continued using mouse molecular genetics to identify the genes mutated in a group of human developmental disorders. At FIU Dr. Kos has continued her work in mouse molecular genetics focusing on the transcription factors and signaling pathways that regulate normal melanocyte development and associated pigmentation disorders. She has extended the scope of her work to the development of mouse models of melanoma and the role melanocytes play in heart development. Her laboratory has been funded by the American Heart Association, Florida Heart, and the National Institutes of Health (NIGMS, NCI and NIAMS). Dr. Kos has published over 40 papers including in high impact journals such as Science, Nature Genetics, and PNAS. Since joining FIU, Dr. Kos has graduated 12 PhD and 4 MS students and currently supervises 2 PhD students. She has trained 2 post-doctoral fellows and over 50 undergraduate students in her laboratory. Dr. Kos has served as the Executive Editor for the journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research, as a council member for the PanAmerican Society for Pigment Cell Research and currently serves as a reviewer in NIGMS and DOD proposal panels.

Dr. Jaffus Hardrick is an award-winning senior academic executive with a proven track record for promoting student success, enhancing student outcomes, optimizing faculty and staff development, and cultivating a culture of excellence.

Dr. Hardrick fully understands the promise of education. Through education, Dr. Hardrick was fortunate to earn significant roles as a higher education administrator. He served as the vice provost for access and success at Florida International University, the nation's fourth-largest public urban research university; assistant vice provost for Academic Affairs at Baylor University; and now the president of Florida Memorial University. As an education executive, he is committed to developing future leaders and closing achievement gaps among underrepresented students and creating a culture of academic excellence in higher education. He is also the co-author of “Making Global Learning Universal: Promoting Inclusion and Success for All Students” (Stylus).

A visionary leader with a keen eye for strategic direction, Dr. Hardrick has developed a record of success by working across the academy to enhance organizational effectiveness and efficiency, improve academic quality, and ensure student success. Some of his professional experiences include attracting and developing talented workforces, increasing donor and business relations, and forging strong community relationships. Dr. Hardrick is recognized as a strategic thinker, thought leader, problem solver, consensus builder, motivator, and fund and friend raiser. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a master’s degree from Prairie View A&M University, and his doctorate from Baylor University. He is a proud member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. At Florida Memorial University, Dr. Hardrick’s five areas of strategic focus are:

  • 1. Student Success
  • 2. Academic Quality
  • 3. Operational Excellence
  • 4. Financial Solvency
  • 5. Relationship Development
For more information, visit www.fmuniv.edu.

Samuel A. Darko, Ph.D., became Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences on August 16th, 2021. An avid learner, he is a technologically savvy problem-solver with ability to communicate technical information to non- technical audience at all organizational levels.
He possesses excellent managerial and organization skills with an interactive, hands-on approach; able to build strong teams to achieve overall corporate and project objectives.
Dr. Darko served on the faculty of Benedict College for seventeen years starting as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science where he served for seventeen years. In May 2021, He was named Professor of Environmental Engineering. Through a public, private partnership initiative, he co-founded and leads the FMU Climate Resiliency Center, dedicated to creating the first Net Energy Positive + 100% Resilient University Campus with integrated sustainability, technology, and innovation education at its core.
During his tenure at Benedict College, he founded and directed the Environmental Engineering program, the Benedict College-Scientific VillageTM, and the Freeda Moore Laboratory for Sustainability Research which he directed for more than fifteen years. He served on the President’s Advisory Council and on BC Board of Trustees for two years, representing the faculty and staff.
Conscientious self-starter and highly motivated team player with proven ability to function in detail- oriented environments, Dr. Darko is an avid learner and inquisitor to all things science and engineering.  Dr. Darko has been an active researcher in the fabrication and application of novel nanomaterials for environmental protection.  Over the years Dr. Darko secured more than $3MM in grant funding from Goldman Sachs, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that enabled him to enhance and impact institutional capabilities and capacity.
In 2012,  he was awarded The South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Excellence in Teaching Award following his recognition as the Benedict College 2010-2011 Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award.
He earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering for la Universidad de Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, and master’s in Engineering and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of South Carolina.
Dean Darko has over eighteen years in academia, teaching and conducting research in the field of environmental  sciences and engineering, and multiple years of practice experience in the steel manufacturing industry.

Dr. Adrienne T. Cooper is a visionary and proven leader who works diligently to ensure academic excellence, research advancement and student success. Dr. Cooper’s professional career has spanned industry, government, and academia, and her experience is wide-ranging, including business analysis, human resources and diversity education, educational outreach, and engineering. She currently serves as the Provost and Executive Vice President at Florida Memorial University (FMU) where she is responsible for academic affairs, student affairs, enrollment management, and institutional effectiveness.

Prior to joining FMU, Dr. Cooper served as the Associate Provost and Chief Research Officer at Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) in Daytona Beach, Florida, where she led initiatives to stimulate research advancement and scholarly endeavors, enhance curriculum management, ensure academic program accreditation and review, increase academic enrichment, resolve student academic issues, and strengthen the Office of the Registrar.

Dr. Cooper received a bachelor of science in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee and earned a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Florida. Her research has focused on sustainable systems engineering and she is a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the Lindback Career Enhancement Minority Junior Faculty Award for her research in photocatalytic processes for water treatment and remediation.

Dr. Cooper is a prolific scholar who has authored more than 25 publications. Her research has been presented to audiences across the United States, the Caribbean, England, Japan, and Zimbabwe.

Dr. Cooper continues to provide service to her community and her discipline, having served on several committees of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, university and K-12 advisory boards, and professional organizations. In her spare time, Dr. Cooper enjoys playing tennis, reading suspenseful mystery, listening to her son play jazz, and debating politics with her mother.

Dr. Sylvia Wilson Thomas is an Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering and former Assistant Dean (Engineering) at the University of South Florida (USF) College of Engineering. She is a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE).

Dr. Thomas holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, where she was a Patricia Roberts Harris Fellow. She received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Howard University, as a NSF Materials Research Center of Excellence Fellow and was a National Science Foundation (NSF) EAPSI research fellow in Korea at Chonbuk National University during her doctoral program.

Dr. Thomas is a motivational speaker and consultant for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, continued/graduate education, K-12 efforts, career transitioning, mentoring and professional development, and she provides inspirational lectures to community organizations and professional societies. Her involvement and constant dedication to STEM education, diversity, and professional development have led to her recognition in local and national news and publications, including the most prestigious US Black Engineer BEYA Educational Leadership Award (2020), the USF Undergraduate Teaching Award (2018), the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Award (2018), the STEM Woman of the Year Award from Pinellas County Girls Inc. (2016), the USF Graduate Faculty Mentor Award (2015), and the McKnight Junior Faculty Fellowship (2011). She was also featured in “The Faces of Technology” by the Florida High Tech Corridor (2009), in the “Recruiter, Role Model, Engineer” by the Tampa Bay Times (August 5, 2007), and at the United Nations-NGO Briefing on “Girls and Technology: New Educational Opportunities” (March, 2004).

Dr. Thomas is involved in various organizations, having served as the first female chair of the Florida Education Fund and the Engineering Workforce Commission of the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES). She has also served as President of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Engineering in Medicine and Biology Florida West Coast Section and co-chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-USA) Workforce and Career Policy committee. Dr. Thomas’ involvement includes USF GEM Consortium representative, former GEM recruiter, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation program mentor, mentor and advisor for IEEE, SWE, NSBE, SHPE, and TBP (Tau Beta Pi), inaugural Board of Directors for Black Girls Code, and member IEEE, AAES, ASEE, NACME, and WEPAN. She has assisted with the success and advancement of such companies and organizations as Agere Systems, Lucent Technologies-Bell Labs, the National GEM Consortium, Kimberly Clark Corp., IBM, and Procter & Gamble. She has mentored several hundred students and peer faculty.

Dr. Thomas leads the Advanced Membrane and Materials Bio and Integration Research (AMBIR) laboratory at USF. Her research and teaching endeavors are focused on the investigation of bio (biomedical, biological) and nano electronic device integration using advanced material systems for nano membrane technology, energy harvesting, sustainable environments, drug delivery, and bio-applications to meet global technological challenges. She has also fostered and been engaged in collaborations and engineering education efforts in Italy, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Portugal, South Korea, Mexico, and South Africa.

Author of several technical and non-technical articles, Dr. Thomas has 12 patents/pending patents, over 40 peer reviewed journals and proceedings, six book/book chapters, over $4M in funding and more than 25 years of global experience in academia and industry. She continues to participate across the country in numerous conferences, seminars and workshops training and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students and advocating for women in STEM.

In her capacity as Assistant Dean, Dr. Thomas coordinated student services, oversaw student recruitment, promoted student, faculty, and staff diversity, championed undergraduate research, academic excellence matriculation, and graduation, developed K-12 and community college initiatives, and fostered activities that strengthened relationships with external collaborators, such as internships, cooperatives, dual degree programs, and others.

Dr. Thomas’s efforts strengthened and further developed relationships and programs with industry, government and academia to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of student, faculty and staff populations in the College of Engineering in support of university directives. During this time, Dr. Thomas established the Student Success Center and the Engineering Living Learning Community, and fostered the foundation for successful student outcomes and diversity initiatives that, in 2013, enabled USF to be ranked in the top five nationally for conferring engineering doctorates to both African American and Hispanic/Latino students (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 2013).

Dr. Brenda L. Walker is the Interim Associate Dean of the College of Education and Professor of Exceptional Student Education. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Central Michigan University and a doctorate in Behavior Disorders and Learning Disabilities from the University of Kansas. She also earned her Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law and is a lawyer interested in civil rights, education, and poverty laws.

Dr. Walker is a product of urban schools in Saginaw, Michigan. She committed her career to improving outcomes for children and families in urban and high poverty communities. While at the USF, she has secured more than $9 million in federal funding to recruit and retain students of color to be effective teachers in urban schools. She developed the first successful initiative to recruit and prepare African American men to teach children with behavior disorders. She also provided research assistantships, tuition, and books to over 40 students enrolled in Ph.D. programs.

Dr. Walker enhanced the research capacity of HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving and Native American serving institutions. She founded the USF Center for Action Research On Urban Schools and Effective Leadership (the Carousel Center). Having served as the President of USF’s Black Faculty and Staff Association and co-chair of the Committee On Black Affairs, she has mentored numerous junior faculty at USF and around the country to facilitate their successful tenure and promotion in higher education.

Dr. Walker’s research and scholarship focus primarily on African American learners and ways that schools and juvenile justice systems can be more culturally responsive. She has published a number of journal articles, book chapters, a textbook, and a children’s book, “One Love.” Her publications focus specifically on school suspensions, special education overrepresentation, and the school to prison pipeline. Dr. Walker provides service to K-12 schools by delivering motivational and educational speeches and workshops to students, teachers, and principals.

Dr. Saundra Johnson Austin is the project coordinator for the FL AGEP Alliance. She also teaches grades 5-8 math at Academy Prep Center of Tampa. In 2007, she founded Charis Consulting Group, LLC as the president and CEO focusing on education and community transformation. Formerly, she was the executive director of Curated PathwaysTM to Innovation, senior vice president for operations at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc., president and CEO of St. Michael’s High School, executive vice president of the Community Partnership for Lifelong Learning, executive director of the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science (GEM), and Minority Engineering Program director at The Pennsylvania State University. She began her career at Bechtel Power Corporation as a cost engineer.

Dr. Johnson Austin is an innovative leader, researcher, and public speaker. Her research focuses on the challenges teachers face implementing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula. She has published several professional articles addressing the broadening the participation of students of color in STEM education and careers. She is the 2020-2022 president of the AAUW Tampa Branch, the member-at-large for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Minorities in Engineering Division (MIND), vice president of the Coalition of Hispanic African and Native Americans for the Next Generation of Engineers and Scientists (CHANGES); education committee consultant for Tampa’s Caribbean Community Association; and member of the White House endorsed initiative Algebra by 7th Grade, which was established under the Obama administration

In 1998, she was recognized with the National Society of Black Engineers’ Inaugural Golden Torch Award for Minority Engineering Program Director of the Year and Outstanding Contribution by a Minority Engineering Program Administrator Award by the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates. She was awarded the 2004-2005 Selected Professions Fellowship by the American Association of University Women. In 2015, she was recognized by The Pennsylvania State University as Outstanding Engineering Alumnus for Civil and Environmental Engineering and she currently serves on the College of Engineering’s Industrial and Professional Advisory Council.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University, an MBA from University of Notre Dame, and a Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California.

Dr. Johnson Austin enjoys mentoring girls, college students, and early professionals on the opportunities in STEM education and careers. She welcomes speaking engagements on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Dr. Tonisha B. Lane is an assistant professor of higher education in the School of Education at Virginia Tech. She studies the experiences and outcomes of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Dr. Lane’s research also focuses on the participation and achievement of Black students and professionals in higher education.

Dr. Lane is a co-PI on several NSF-funded research projects including Bulls-Engineering Youth Experience for Promoting Relationships, Identity Development, & Empowerment (Bulls-EYE PRIDE), The AGEP Florida Alliance Model: Improving Minority Women Success in STEM Faculty Careers, and Graduate Student Scholarships to Advance Community Engaged Solutions to the Grand Challenge of Managing Nitrogen, totaling nearly $4 million in external grant funding. She has also been the recipient of several honors including ACPA Emerging Scholar (class of 2018), McKnight Fellow, and a National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) Emerging Diversity Scholar.

Dr. Lane’s work can be found in recently published texts “Multicultural Education in the 21st Century: Innovative Research and Practices and Intersectionality” and “Higher Education: Identity and Inequality on College Campuses.” Additionally, her articles appear in “CBE-Life Sciences Education,” “Journal of Equity and Excellence in Education,” and “Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice.”