The AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition has named two students as 2023-2024 SciTech and Human Rights FutureGen Scholars. The students will receive funding and mentorship to carry out a project at the intersection of science, technology and human rights.
David Albrecht, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton, will adapt a materials research project into a community engagement, education and outreach initiative. Sierra Laveroni, a graduate student in forensic biology at Virginia Commonwealth University, will use DNA analysis to reassociate human remains discovered on her university’s campus several decades ago.
Supporting and spotlighting student involvement at the intersection of science and human rights has long been a goal of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, a network of scientific and engineering membership organizations that promotes a role for scientists and engineers in service to human rights. The Coalition puts this commitment into action with the annual selection of the SciTech and Human Rights FutureGen Scholars.
“Just like previous FutureGen Scholars, David and Sierra’s projects demonstrate the value of science and technology for documenting and protecting human rights. The AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition looks forward to supporting their innovative projects and their growth as future science and human rights leaders,” said Theresa Harris, director of the AAAS Center for Scientific Responsibility and Justice, which serves as the Coalition’s Secretariat.
Albrecht will build upon a research project at his university focused on studying natural alternatives to plastics for use in environmental restoration, water quality protection and aquaculture in coastal South Carolina. He aims to create a unique web-based resource that publicizes the full efforts of a NOAA research project to engage stakeholder communities in coastal South Carolina, particularly the Gullah Geechee people.
His goal is for the website to serve as a tool for inclusive science communication and as a centralized resource for underrepresented individuals to find involvement opportunities within the plastic-alternatives research project – and, ultimately, to help address the issue of underrepresentation and exclusion of marginalized groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
With his project, Albrecht also aims to protect and promote the traditional knowledge of the Gullah people as it relates to their coastal environment and the use of natural materials.
Laveroni will use DNA analysis to bring “respect and dignity” back to buried human remains, she wrote in her proposal. In 1994, construction at Virginia Commonwealth University uncovered a well containing remains of at least 54 people dating from the mid-19th century, chiefly of poor people and African Americans who had been grave-robbed for use by medical students. The process of removal in the 1990s commingled the remains, so Laveroni aims to reassociate all the human bone elements recovered from the well into discrete individuals using DNA analysis.
She will also help develop and refine a curriculum on the ethical treatment of human remains that will be distributed to local schools in Richmond, Virginia.
“These lessons will act as a way to educate the public about the shortcomings in our recent history, how steps have been taken to ‘right the wrong,’ and how things can still be improved,” wrote Laveroni.
This year’s scholars were selected by the Coalition’s Steering Committee based on the creativity and achievability of their project in service of human rights objectives through the use of science and technology.
The FutureGen Scholars initiative is made possible through the generosity of the AAAS - Andrew M. Sessler Fund for Science, Education and Human Rights and a number of individual donors, including Art Kendall and Jeffrey H. Toney. The fund honors Sessler’s legacy as a physicist and leader by supporting activities that bridge the scientific, engineering and human rights communities; engage young and aspiring scientists and engineers in human rights; and increase the capacity of human rights practitioners to integrate scientific methods and technologies in their work.
Applications for the next round of FutureGen Scholars will open in spring 2024. Read about some of the past winners here.