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Rutendo Jakachira C’20 is Thriving at Brown University’s Physics PhD Program

“I didn’t see myself fitting the physicist mold. Drew changed that.”

July 2022 – Rutendo Jakachira C’20 recently received recognition for her scholastic accomplishments as a PhD student in Brown University’s physics program.

Jakachira was awarded the inaugural Optica Foundation Amplify Scholarship for Study of Pulse Oximetry and Race, given to 15 students around the world, “support[ing] Black students and their passion for light science.”

When discussing the honor, Jakachira reflected on her time at Drew and focused on a theme of support, both academically and socially.

“Before attending Drew, doing a physics PhD had never crossed my mind,” she said. “I didn’t see myself fitting the physicist mold. Drew changed that. Through the support of my professors and friends, I was able to shatter the glass ceilings that once narrowed my view. I’ve now earned my M.Sc. in physics en route to a PhD.”

Jakachira pointed to Bjorg Larson, associate professor of physics, for introducing her to optical physics, which she now researches at Brown and has recently been asked to weigh in on by CNN.

“Not only was Dr. Larson a great professor, but she was an active mentor,” said Jakachira. “She was always making me aware of the opportunities that were available to me and made sure that I was aware of other Black physicists. This was especially important to me as I often looked around classrooms or rooms at conferences and rarely saw people who looked like me. Naturally, I felt out of place. Dr. Larson’s consistent reinforcement of my place in a room full of physicists gave me the confidence to continue walking my path.”

Jakachira has zeroed in on the intersection of optical physics and race. Her research at Brown focuses on making pulse oximeters accurate across all skin tones.

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Jakachira presenting during Drew's annual Day of Scholars.

From a social standpoint, Jakachira said Drew was “exactly what I needed as I embarked on a journey that put oceans between me and my family.” She has taken her appreciation of finding “anchors” at Drew and paid it forward at Brown, co-founding and serving as vice president of the Graduate African Student Organization (GASO).

“I often quote an African proverb that says, ‘If you do not know where you are going, remember where you came from,'” she said.

“Through Drew, I met some of my dearest friends who were from various countries in Africa. They were a consistent reminder of home and the sacrifices my parents made for me to be at Drew and in the U.S. in general. They anchored me. They also broadened my view and appreciation of Africa. When I started at Brown, I sought to find my anchor, something to ground me when things got tough. Through GASO, we aim to create a feeling of home-away-from-home for African graduate students.”

Whether in the lab or around campus, Jakachira is keeping the lessons and spirit from her time at Drew close by.

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