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JCSU Faculty Member Receives IBM Academic Award

Dr. Felesia Stukes

Dr. Felesia Stukes is becoming a trailblazer in the world of data science, especially for women, minorities and HBCUs. In January 2021, Stukes was awarded the IBM Academic Award for Social Computing Command Center: Innovating Undergraduate Data Science Curriculum. 

“I was really excited to receive this award because I had already been thinking of ways to bring in funding from the industry,” said Stukes.

The IBM Academic Award program fosters collaboration between researchers at leading universities and IBM Researchers and Technologists worldwide. The partnership includes Watson IBM, a question-answering computer system, for the campus to use.

Stukes, who developed and leads the data science minor at Johnson C. Smith University, hopes this partnership helps her fulfill her long-term goal of diversifying the data science industry. “There will be new computing positions and jobs coming over the next 10 - 20 years, and not enough people to fill them because they require bachelor’s degrees in computer science. But because computing has not been inclusive in the past, we’re now in a crisis” she explained.

Stukes’s program is built around creating curriculum, initiatives, and experiences or research opportunities for students in data. She describes the program as a merge between computer science, and other disciplines. She hopes this approach helps spark students’ interest. 

As an HBCU graduate, and the first Black faculty member in the Department of Computer Science at JCSU, Stukes knows all too well how important diversity is. In fact, she has said it’s her purpose to help address this issue in her discipline. “It’s extremely important to me because it addresses problems in my professional life that I am dealing with. When I raise awareness and bring my cultural perspective to the table, it opens the door for more people like me to come in,” she said. “It’s a huge part of the program I’ve decided to do.”

Stukes has expanded her efforts more broadly outside of JCSU. She is currently collaborating with five other HBCUs in a data science consortium, designed to inspire and extend a culture of academic development and research collaborations across the region, state, and ultimately, the nation. In the future she would like to see a data science undergraduate and graduate program at JCSU.

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