FAMU engineering grad gets historic doctorate offer from Harvard

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Bobby Haney received a doctorate degree in April in chemical engineering.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FAMU

BY TRISHA RADULOVICH
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

When Florida A&M University/Florida State University College of Engineering student Bobby Haney first tried to explain to his parents that he wanted to continue pursuing his education after graduating, his parents were less than enthusiastic.

After all, as a chemical engineering graduate with his bachelor’s degree he could get a job with a guaranteed income right away. Haney explained that this is the type of decision that students who come from low-income situations like his have to face when thinking about pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree. But for him, there was never a doubt.

“My older sister is the first person in the history of my family to go to college and get a degree,” Haney said.

“Ten years later I got my degree in chemical engineering. To my family, getting an engineering degree was enough. It was synonymous with a high-paying job that would earn a salary no one in my family has ever seen. It was hard to convince them to see the bigger picture, but they supported my decision. Once I got my Ph.D., my family couldn’t be prouder.”

Research scientist

Haney, a Gaffney, South Carolina native, earned his bachelor’s at Clemson University in 2015 and his master’s at Florida A&M in 2018. He receives his doctorate through FAMU last month but has already received an immediate offer from Harvard University for a post-doctoral position.

He plans to continue work as a research scientist before applying for a faculty position in a chemical engineering department. A post-doctoral term will allow him to conduct research in areas that are different from his doctoral area of expertise. He will be working alongside David Weitz, Ph.D., Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics at Harvard.

“Dr. Weitz offered me an opportunity to work in a laboratory,” Haney said. “I will have the opportunity to work with new research and have the chance to learn new techniques. The experience will be invaluable in being a more experienced professor in the end.”

CREST support

Professor Subramanian Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., known affectionately as Dr. Rama, was Haney’s adviser at the college and helped the graduate understand how to get help from the right sources.

“Dr. Rama helped me develop as a research scientist,” Haney said. “He taught me the importance of quickly identifying who can help and how to prioritize in reading, writing and experiments. He helped me to eliminate all the factors that could have slowed my progress.”

Haney’s graduate work was supported in part by the Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) program at the college.

CREST is a National Science Foundation (NSF) program with the goal of training underrepresented minority students in areas of national interest and need, by helping them to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

First program grad

CREST provides stipends for undergraduates, graduates, and students in summer research experiences and helps them apply for national fellowships.

In fact, Haney is the first doctoral graduate of the CREST program at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, which began in 2018.

“CREST provided me with the funding necessary for unhindered focus on research,” Haney said. “By easing the financial burden related to graduate school, I gained important skills as a research scientist and gained the experience needed to be a successful graduate student.”

‘No small feat’

Haney’s research focuses on the use of unique particles that promote the dispersion of traditionally immiscible liquids.

This technology is useful in creating cosmetic products that increase shelf-life and limit skin irritation. It can also be used in transporting highly viscous crude oil through water pipes by breaking the oil into many very small droplets.

“I am very proud of Bobby and his development as a scientist over the last five years,” Ramakrishnan said. “He has come a long way and what I find very satisfying is that he wants to be a faculty. He is very motivated to contribute to science and engineering and can serve as a role model for future African American students. Having an offer from Harvard is no small feat as well.”

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