Environmental Factor – October 2022: Making History: NIEHS Intern Named 2022 Astronaut Scholar

NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) 2021-2022 intern Tanae Lewis recently made history after being appointed 2022 Astronaut Fellow ― one of 68 across the country. The Astronaut Scholarship was created to ensure the United States maintains its leadership in science and technology by supporting the most promising science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students.

“My internship at NIEHS really contributed to my success,” said Lewis, a recent intern with the NIEHS Scholars Connect program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw/NIEHS.)

Lewis is a chemistry major at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T). She is the first Goldwater scholar at the university to also be named an astronaut scholar and the first student from a historically black college or university (HBCU) to earn this dual recognition. She completed a year-long biomedical research internship at the NIEHS, studying how disruption of RNA processing pathways can lead to neurodevelopmental disease.

As the 2022 Astronaut Fellow, Lewis will receive a $15,000 scholarship, a paid trip to Orlando, Florida to attend the annual Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) Innovators Week and Gala, and a lifelong engagement with astronauts, researchers, innovators, and former Astronaut Fellows.

Connecting scholars, mentors

“The NIEHS Scholars Connect program that Tanae Lewis participated in last year was developed to enhance the training and mentoring of our future scientific leaders,” said NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, MD. of the program, but also to the hard work and dedication of his outstanding mentors.

Lewis’ NIEHS mentors are Robin Stanley, Ph.D., who leads the Nucleolar Integrity Group, and postdoctoral fellow Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D.

Robin Stanley, Ph.D., and Cassandra Hayne, Ph.D. Stanley (left) and Hayne (right) said they were immensely proud of Lewis’ continued success. “I also want to commend Dr. Hayne for his excellent mentorship of Tanae and for encouraging her to pursue other opportunities,” Stanley said. (Photos courtesy of Steve McCaw/NIEHS.)

“Cassandra and I are very proud of Tanae and all of her accomplishments,” Stanley said. “Due to Covid restrictions, the Tanae Scholars Connect experience was virtual, but despite this she persevered and was able to accomplish a lot.”

Above and beyond

“I am truly grateful for the experience and opportunity to work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Dr. Stanley’s lab mentored by Dr. Hayne,” Lewis said. “My research experience has been exceptional, to say the least. I learned a lot in this lab, and the work done prepared and taught me to think like, and eventually become, a great scientist.

Lewis remains busy in her pursuit of research into neurodegenerative diseases and hopes to one day research new treatments and technologies for Alzheimer’s disease.

While in college, she is a Peer Mentor and Aggie Student Success Manager in the Chemistry Department of the College of Science and Technology (CoST) and is Vice President of the NC A&T Chemistry Club. She is a 2019-2021 CoST SciTech Fellow, as well as a 2019-2022 Aggie Gentz ​​Fellow and a Chemistry Department Fellow. She has been on the NC A&T Chancellor List since 2019, is a Fellow of the Science and Math National Honor Society, and was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society in April.

Pursue STEM diversification

The Astronaut Scholarship was established in 1984 by the surviving astronauts of Mercury 7. The program provides scholarships to second- and third-year STEM students who intend to pursue research or advance their fields after graduation.

Kathleen Bostick (left), Tanae Lewis (center) and Sarai Rankin (right) Kathleen Bostick, of Spelman College (left); Lewis (center); and Sarai Rankin of Morgan State University (right) attended the Astronaut Innovators Week Gala in August. (Photo courtesy of Tanae Lewis)

Dr. Bernard Harris broke the ceiling being the first black American to perform a spacewalk and helps ensure that all students, especially Black Americans, have access to high-quality STEM education,” Lewis said. “I can contribute to the diversity of the biomedical science profession by creating a unique voice and perspective while enhancing an environment that invites more underrepresented minorities to work in this field.”

(Note: This article is from this press release written by Jackie TorokDirector of Media Relations at NC A&T.)