Two GSU students earn IBM’s Masters Fellowship Award

Pictured are Grambling State University students Elliot Howard (left) and Crystal Shelling (Courtesy photos)

Press release

Grambling State University has announced that pair of its students are recipients of IBM’s Masters Fellowship Award.

Crystal Shelling, a psychology major from Monroe, and Elliott Howard, a social sciences student from Grambling will receive the awards valued at $10,000. The awards recognize exceptional HBCU students who want to make their mark in disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence(AI), hybrid cloud and quantum computing.

In the inaugural year of its Masters Fellowship Program, IBM selected 15 students across nine HBCUs who represent a variety of majors and are advancing technology in several interest areas, including hybrid cloud, quantum computing, AI, open-source technology, cyber security, systems and data science. As part of the fellowship, IBM provides award recipients with $10,000 to support their graduate studies and progress their work in these areas.

“Crystal Shelling is an emerging scholar who has traversed many challenges to arrive at this point in her academic life. She has been negatively impacted by the very subject of her research, but she has persisted,” said GSU Associate Professor Kevin Washington about his nominee.

“Her resilience coupled with her insight and enhanced by her compassion and passion to make a difference within the world is encouraging. Crystal is destined to positively impact the mental health field because she has intellect and empathy. She makes us all want to do better for ourselves and others.”

Shelling said the fellowship will allow her to complete her program without worrying about financial assistance.

“Graduating with my master’s degree has been a dream of mine and my mother for years, and I now proudly tell my mother with a sincere smile, ‘I can finish now,’ ” Shelling said.

Howard said he has long been interested in studying race in America, and is focusing on critical race theory in society.

“This fellowship will help me accomplish a great deal,” Howard said. “With it, I will be able to finish out my master’s program without funding being an issue. It will allow me to keep buying literature to help my understanding of my field.”

Howard was nominated by GSU Associate Professor Matthew Sheptoski.

“Elliott is a standout among his cohort,” Sheptoski said. “I have known him for a number of years; he has taken countless courses with me, presenting his research on several occasions to the Grambling community as well as attending and presenting at regional sociology conferences. I am consistently impressed with his perseverance and incredible attitude, both of which are unwavering.”

IBM’s Masters Fellowship was created in 2020 to address the gap many students face when pursuing advanced degrees and to improve diversity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. Although HBCUs produce 27% of all African-American STEM graduates, historically Black colleges remain under-resourced and heavily rely on government funding for support.

Through this program, IBM said it aims to combat this issue and drive more access to opportunities and increase representation in the tech industry.

“HBCUs are a pillar of American history and have long supported equal access to educational opportunities,” said Valinda Scarbro Kennedy, HBCU program lead at IBM Global University Programs. “That’s why IBM believes it is crucial we invest in under-represented talent and commit to intentional programs and collaborations with HBCUs. This program helps provide a pathway for some of the most talented students to pursue an advanced degree and work on pressing business and societal issues. It also helps reduce the financial burden that may prevent students from taking the next step and enables more diverse talent to gain access to skills that can unlock economic opportunity and prosperity.”


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