Promoting Connections for Black Students in STEM

Kaela Makins '21 Photo: Nancy L. Ford

A love for lab research has characterized Kaela Makins’ ’21 Hamilton experience, and she wants to ensure that other students of color can discover and maintain their own passion for STEM studies. That’s why she serves as an organizer for Black in Cancer.

Black in Cancer is an organization devoted to promoting connections among Black people in cancer studies and sharing Black excellence in cancer medicine and research. Makins signed up to participate soon after the group was founded over the summer in response to the growing national call to recognize systemic injustices against Black people.

Kaela Makins '21

“The idea of Black lives in science was a big, important topic that popped up along that timeline,” she said, explaining that Black in Cancer emerged alongside other similar organizations such as Black in Neuro and Black in Chem.


Major: Biology

Hometown: Miami, Fla.

High school: Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart

Serving as the only undergraduate on Black in Cancer’s organizing committee, Makins works with Ph.D. and postdoctoral students to brainstorm online social events that educate people on cancer-related subjects, feature Black scientists’ contributions to cancer research, and facilitate discussions on the loss of loved ones to cancer.

On Oct. 13, she moderated “Proliferating the Pipeline,” leading the first virtual panel discussion on different career paths in cancer-related fields. “My role in planning out the event was thinking about how we could grab a younger audience and how we can devote some time to thinking about Black scientists and Black research … and how we can reach [young Black students] and inspire them to continue in whatever journey they’re on in their science career,” she said.

An accomplished researcher herself, Makins is currently working on two biology research projects, both of which she has developed over multiple semesters. With her advisor Professor of Biology Wei-Jen Chang, she examines the effects of a chemical called NGI on single-celled organisms. Makins is also aiding Assistant Professor of Biology Rhea Datta as she analyzes the impact of lead on genetic inheritance in fruit flies.

“They’re very different projects and I think that just being at Hamilton, and being so heavily involved in research, I’ve had the ability to work in very different types of research to find what I like to do and what I actually enjoy and want to go on to do,” she said.

Makins knew that she wanted to study cancer when she came to Hamilton but planned to pursue a pre-med track. Knowing Makins’ desire to combine her interest in science with her passion for Mandarin, Chang helped connect her to a cancer research laboratory in Taiwan for summer 2018. During her internship, in which she helped test a hypothermia treatment for cancer, she realized that she wanted to continue working in a lab. Since her internship with National Tsinghua University, she has supported research projects on campus and, during the summer after her sophomore year, with Zhengzhou University in China.

As she prepares to graduate from Hamilton and looks toward graduate school, Makins continues to help others through their education. In addition to her work with Black in Cancer, she is co-founder and co-chair of ROOTS, Hamilton’s Society for Students of Color in STEM. With ROOTS, she aids students of color with professional development, career guidance, and mental support, overall providing a supportive community for students of color in STEM at Hamilton.

Makins has endeavored to push herself in science research and make connections in the cancer field, and she hopes to show other students of color that there is a place for them in STEM.

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