Washington University in St. Louis senior Jasmine Brown named Rhodes Scholar

Brown to study neuroscience; fight implicit bias against minority scientists

Jasmine Brown (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Jasmine Brown, a senior in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is among 32 students from across the United States chosen Saturday, Nov. 18, as a Rhodes Scholar.

One of the world’s most prestigious academic awards, Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

Brown, 21, who is majoring in biology, intends to earn a PhD in neuroscience at Oxford University while continuing her efforts to fight implicit bias against minority students in academia and the lab. She hails from Hillsborough, N.J.

Brown has distinguished herself as a researcher who effortlessly segues from one vexing medical challenge to another. Currently she is a research assistant at the Washington University School of Medicine where she is working to uncover the molecular pathways West Nile and Zika viruses travel to infect the brain.

Previously she studied lung cancer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, tested the antitussive effects of specific drugs at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and analyzed the long-term neurological effects of cocaine and other stimulants on the adolescent brain at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“I have a lot of questions,” Brown said. “What I love about science is that it gives me the tools to generate answers and to improve human health. It’s a fun process for me, but also a satisfying one because I can make an impact.”

James B. Skeath, professor of genetics at the School of Medicine, calls Brown the total package — a good person and a good scientist who is smart, hardworking, curious and creative.

“In her talks, Jasmine sets up the logic and rationale of her work beautifully and then clearly articulates her data, what it means, why it’s significant and what to do next,” Skeath said. “This ability to make the complex simple, to break down complicated biological processes and problems into easily digestible and understandable points, only manifests itself in top students. It reflects an uncommon mind and a depth and breadth of understanding that only a few can obtain.”

Brown has learned some tough lessons in the lab as well. When a researcher hesitated to let Brown into her lab, Brown realized she was the sole black scientist in the building.

“Unfortunately, I soon learned that many other students of color have had similar encounters, leading many to experience imposter syndrome, questioning if they truly belong in the research community,” Brown wrote in her Rhodes application.

She decided to start the group Minority Association of Rising Scientists (MARS) to support underrepresented student and to educate faculty members about implicit bias. She has been working with the National Science Foundation to expand the program across the nation.  

“If we want to advance science, we need people from different backgrounds who think in different ways,” Brown said.

MARS is inspired, in part, by Brown’s experience as both a Rodriguez and an Ervin scholar at Washington University.

“The nurture and support I got from those programs is something I want MARS to provide to minority scientists,” Brown said. “Those programs, as well as the professors I’ve connected with at WashU, made me realize I am not disempowered and that I could extend that network of support to other people who don’t have that community.”

Brown also has served as a member of Synapse, which prepares high school students for the Brain Bee; a candidate for Mx. WashU, which raises money for City Faces; and a participant in Black Anthology and the African Student Association Fashion Show.

Her friend Camille Borders, also an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member and fellow Ervin Scholar, also was selected as a Rhodes scholar. Borders is a history major in Arts & Sciences and help found the group Students in Solidarity in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown and Borders represent the 28th and 29th Rhodes Scholar from Washington University in St. Louis. Read more about Borders here.

To learn more about the Rhodes Scholarship, visit rhodesscholar.org.

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