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African-American Scholar Program 2022 Recipients

Eleven students were selected to receive scholarship funds and will be invited to participate in Aquarium projects and events through the program, now in its second year

2022 collage of 11 African American Scholar award recipients

February 26, 2022

The award recipients were announced during the Aquarium’s annual African American Festival in a ceremony that was streamed live online today.

“The scholar program is so much more than just financial support. It is also the ability to be more inclusive, build community, and allow the scholars the means to get involved with our institution, make career related contacts, and create life-long relationships with other scholars over the years,” says Anthony Brown, Aquarium of the Pacific CFO and scholar program committee lead.

Applications were submitted by students who demonstrated a commitment to studies related to careers in the aquarium field, including ocean education, animal husbandry, water quality, building maintenance or facilities, microbiology, and business management. Award recipients were selected by a committee including Aquarium staff members and members of the community. Each of the recipients will receive $10,000 and will also be invited to the Aquarium to participate in conservation projects, meetings, and other activities.

This program is possible thanks to funding from individuals and corporate supporters, including Aquarium of the Pacific Board members and staff members, The Ahmanson Foundation, The Boeing Company, and Poms & Associates. The public is also invited to support the Aquarium’s African American Scholar program. To make a donation, you can visit

Recipients of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s 2022 African American Scholar Funds:

headshot of Moriah Byrd

Moriah Byrd is a graduate student in the University of California, Los Angeles’ Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences Ph.D. program researching DNA tools to measure the biodiversity of an environment. In 2021 Byrd earned a bachelor’s degree in marine science with a minor in applied math from Savannah State University.

headshot of Jaylen Citizen

Jaylen Citizen is a second-year student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marine biology at San Diego State University. Citizen plans to attend veterinary school for a career in an aquarium or rehabilitation setting.

headshot of Amanda Frank

Amanda Frank is a third-year student at California State University, San Marcos, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and a minor in sustainability.

headshot of Jacqueline Rajerison

Jacqueline Rajerison earned a bachelor’s degree in marine and coastal science from University of California, Davis. As an undergraduate student, Rajerison conducted research on the intertidal zone and served as a student recruiter and ambassador at Bodega Marine Laboratory.

headshot of Daniel Rankins

Daniel Rankins earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from University of California, Irvine where he is now a first-year Ph.D. student. As an undergraduate he studied abalone, and is now investigating the effects of fiber on zebrafish digestive systems.

headshot of Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith is an undergraduate student at San Jose State University with a major in ecology and evolution and a minor in chemistry. Smith is interested in the therapeutic and medicinal potential of plants and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular and environmental plant sciences. Smith is currently part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program for undergraduate students in biomedical sciences.

headshot of Nefertiti Smith Christman

Nefertiti Smith Christman is a third-year Ph.D. student in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of California, Irvine, studying the impact of stressors, including sediment, on zebrafish. Christman has a bachelor’s degree in marine and environmental science from Hampton University.

headshot of Nicole Thompson

Nicole Thompson is a junior in the animal science program at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Thompson is an aspiring Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and volunteers at an animal hospital.

headshot of Daran Towns

Daran Towns is a third-year student of marine science at California State University, Monterey Bay. Towns is also a volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the guide team and a new SCUBA diver with an open water dive certification.

headshot of Samuel Walkes

Samuel Walkes is a Ph.D. student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California, Davis. Walkes earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental studies from Bowdoin College and previously worked as an educator at the New England Aquarium.

headshot of Paloma Wood-Assemian

Paloma Wood-Assemian is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Howard University. Wood-Assemian previously interned as a data collector at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington.

African American Scholar Program Committee Members:

  • Ryan Ashton, vice president of development, Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Anthony Brown, CFO, Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Sean Devereaux, executive director, Leadership Long Beach
  • Keasha Dumas Heath, executive director, LA Afro American Art Museum
  • Alyssa Pacaut, senior manager of membership, Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Naomi Rainey, committee advisor/president, Long Beach NAACP
  • Steve Young, principal, Keesal, Young, and Logan and Aquarium board director