HHMI Inclusive Excellence STEM fellow Ave Bisesi ’17 is shaping the way STEM classrooms function, emphasizing inclusiveness and the needs of students on campus, while furthering their own passion for scientific research.
Ave Bisesi ’17 is no stranger to being an active community member: at Oberlin, they were involved in a range of activities outside the classroom, from playing with Preying Manti, the Women’s and Trans Ultimate Frisbee team, to hosting a radio show on WOBC-FM. Now, Bisesi is working to foster a sense of community in Oberlin’s academic spaces.
Bisesi is working as the 2018-2019 Inclusive Excellence STEM fellow as a part of Oberlin’s 2017 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Their role is to assess and address the needs of STEM students on campus, a task that includes gathering data on student retention and classroom climates, as well as hosting spaces for staff and faculty to talk about science in a low-pressure environment.
Creating inclusive classroom settings is important to Bisesi, as the classroom was where some of their most formative moments took place at Oberlin. “I think the greatest things I gained over the course of my four years were confidence and a sense of self,” says Bisesi.
“I had always loved science. I arrived intending to major in biology and minor in math, and I was fortunate to find a strong and supportive community in the biology department at Oberlin.”
Bisesi recalls a particularly meaningful moment in Assistant Professor of Biology Aaron Goldman’s course on Genomics. “Early in genomics, I remember that Aaron made a comment about how important it is that we don’t give in to biologically reductionist ideas of race and gender. As a trans person, I’d been reconciling my previously held notions of gender with my love of biology for a long time, and it was so affirming to hear, in the classroom, that I didn’t have to choose; that other scientists were actively thinking about these things.”
Much of Bisesi’s research and studies at Oberlin has informed their postgraduate work. Bisesi conducted research in a number of labs and completed their senior honors research with Associate Professor of Biology Angie Roles, investigating mitochondrial genome structure and instability. They also spent a summer doing osteosarcoma research at a hospital outside Philadelphia. All of these experiences solidified a love of research and the art of asking scientific questions.
In addition to their position at Oberlin, they are working toward a MFA in fiction through Warren Wilson College’s low-residency program and are cohosting a podcast about their experience as a trans person. Within the next few years, Bisesi plans to earn a PhD in geobiology, studying the coevolution of microorganisms, biogeochemical cycles, and climate.
“I’d like to attend an institution that puts emphasis on becoming a good educator, both so that I can interact with welcoming colleagues and so that I leave graduate school with a good understanding of how to teach inclusively.”