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Fourth black woman in MIT history receives chemistry Ph.D.

Photo / Donna Coveney

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- One of the 500-plus graduates awarded Ph.D. degrees June 5 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is Sheree L. Stokes, 26, of Baltimore, MD. She is the fourth African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from MIT in its history.

A native of Baltimore, Stokes said she first became interested in chemistry when a dynamic high school teacher sparked her interest. She graduated from the College of Notre Dame in Maryland before joining the Ph.D. program at MIT in 1993.

Stokes hopes to become a professor, and said she will apply for academic appointments from a postdoctoral position at General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y. She described her five-year Ph.D. program as the end of a lot of hard work and the beginning of a career.

"I like making things. It's a way to be creative," she said of her field of inorganic chemistry. The previous black women Ph.D. recipients in chemistry are Sharon Haynie, who graduated in 1981; Cheryl Debose, Class of '84; and Lynda Jordan, Class of '85, an associate professor of chemistry at North Carolina A&T State University who is Martin Luther King Visiting Professor in Chemistry at MIT this year.

Although Stokes said she wasn't aware of the exact numbers, she was well aware that not many black women are in the field. "You definitely notice when there aren't a lot of people who look like you," she said.

"While working in my group, Sheree studied the synthesis and coordination chemistry of new iron complexes," said Christopher "Kit" Cummins, professor of chemistry. "Her discovery of an N-N bond forming reaction involving nitric oxide (NO) and iron complexes was, perhaps, the highlight of her thesis. I have enjoyed thoroughly my association with the newly minted Dr. Stokes and expect that a person with her enthusiasm for science and skill in synthetic inorganic chemistry will go far."

Stokes and her fianci, fellow MIT chemistry Ph.D. graduate Florian J. Schattenmann, met the second semester of their first year in the program. "We're very proud of each other," he said, as the couple embraced after the ceremony. The wedding is scheduled for late June in New Jersey.

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