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Aquarium of the Pacific Announces the Recipients of its African American Scholar Program

Everyone is invited to tune into the award ceremony, which takes place at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time during the Aquarium’s virtual African-American Festival on February 27, 2021

African American Scholars 2021 Recipient collage

February 16, 2021

February 11, 2021, Long Beach, California— The Aquarium of the Pacific is announcing the recipients of its African American Scholar Program. The award ceremony will take place at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time during the Aquarium’s annual African-American Festival, which will be held virtually on February 27, 2021. “According to the most recent research from the National Science Foundation from 2017, only three African American students were awarded Ph.D. degrees in the United States in the marine sciences in an entire year. With that perspective, we believe that this program can have an important impact on increasing diversity in this field. We hope to bring meaningful opportunities in the marine sciences to African American students and to bring diverse minds to solving the issues facing our planet,” said Anthony Brown, Aquarium of the Pacific CFO and committee lead on the program.

The 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 made of Aquarium staff and members of the community. Each of the recipients will receive $10,000 and will also be invited to the Aquarium to participate in presentations, meetings, and other activities during the duration of the program.

This scholarship is funded through donor support. You can support the initiative by making a donation on this Aquarium webpage or by contacting the Aquarium development department at Thanks to a generous matching gift from an anonymous donor, gifts will be matched up to $10,000.

Recipients of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s African American Scholar Program:

Kelsy Deckard is an undergraduate student at California State University, Monterey Bay. Deckard is working with marine science professors on research and has an interest in coral reef conservation. This recipient’s goal is to be a mammologist (expert working with marine mammals).

Katherine Hannibal is an M.S. candidate in biology at California State University, Northridge and has a B.S in marine biology from the University of Rhode Island. Hannibal is interested in understanding the anthropogenic effects on nearshore environments, specifically focusing on how algal invasive species impact invertebrate life histories. Hannibal hopes that their research serves as a catalyst for real change in environmental policy and promotes broader ecological understanding. After earning a Ph.D., the recipient’s goal is to become an outreach and education director, promoting STEM and environmental awareness to underserved youth.

Newton Zachary Hood is a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California, Irvine. Hood has an M.S. in biology from California State University, Fullerton, a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Illinois, and numerous awards, teaching positions, presentations, and volunteer work related to marine sciences. This recipient’s goal is to contribute to research on abalone conservation and recovery.

Candice Mitchell is an undergraduate student studying marine and coastal science at the University of California, Davis and has an associate’s degree in business administration and economics from Berkeley City College. Mitchell participated in the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute mentorship program. This recipient’s goal is to combine a passion for caring for animals with academic training provided by the recipient’s major, marine and coastal science, and invest in a career in conservation and restoration efforts of marine animals and habitats.

Frederick Nelson is a doctoral student studying ecology at the University of California, Davis. Nelson has a B.S. in biology from Howard University and associate’s degree from Houston Community College. Nelson is a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and has experience in research and educational outreach in marine sciences. This recipient’s goal is discovering and addressing how aquatic organisms are thriving or surviving in certain environments and keeping research, education, and mentorship at the forefront of the recipient’s professional goals. Nelson aims to achieve this through doctoral research and a post-doctoral career.

Leslie Nguyen is an undergraduate student in marine biology at California State University, San Jose. Nguyen volunteers in animal husbandry at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. This recipient’s goal is to be in a position that further enhances skills in research, animal husbandry, and working with children.

Jahlen Pinelo is a microbiology student at University California, Riverside and has an associate’s degree in biological sciences from Antelope Valley College. Pinelo has experience in lab work, STEM tutoring, volunteering, and research related to marine sciences. This recipient’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in environmental microbiology and work with other researchers in exploring ways naturally occurring microbes can be used to battle the rising CO2 levels, effluent, and microplastics problems in marine environments.

Danielle Sandoval is an undergraduate student in marine biology with a chemistry minor at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Sandoval’s background includes several honors and awards, research, and training in marine sciences. This recipient’s goal is to be an environmental research scientist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Continental Ecology Division (MED) research facility, focusing on the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution from entering ocean and freshwater ecosystems.

Elishebah Tate-Pulliam is a M.S. candidate in biology at CSULB and has a B.S. in biology with minor in comparative literature from CSULB. Tate-Pulliam has experience in research, lab work, volunteering, and teaching related to marine sciences. Through research using Olympia oysters and eelgrass as part of a living shoreline restoration project, this recipient’s goal is to continue the collaboration between the CSULB wetlands teams and the Aquarium of the Pacific as well as to continue work with Orange County Coast Keeper to educate students in urban areas about the importance of wetlands and environmental awareness.

Ceyenna Tillman is an undergraduate student in marine biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. Tillman’s numerous honors, volunteering, and research are related to marine sciences. This recipient’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. and to contribute to coral reef conservation.

African American Scholar Program Committee Members:

  • Alazar Asmamaw, co-founder, Everpark Inc.
  • Anthony Brown, CFO, Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Sean Devereaux, director of volunteer engagement, Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Keasha Dumas Heath, executive director, LA Afro American Art Museum
  • Naomi Rainey, president, Long Beach NAACP
  • Steve Young, principal, Keesal, Young, and Logan and Aquarium board director