Eric Stokes, a senior at Morehouse College, uses his knowledge and ability in science to inspire people in and out of the research lab. For Stokes, his passion for biology stemmed from his high school experience.
“My senior year of high school, I realized that science was the only class that kept me intrigued and focused,” Stokes said. “I was pretty good at it, so why not major in biology? I still was not sure what direction I wanted to go with that.”
As he started his college career at Morehouse College, Stokes focused on the medical aspect of science. However, he spent time at the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a lab technician. The individuals he met changed his perspective on his opportunities.
“I had no idea what was going on in that lab,” Stokes said. “I learned basic techniques there. The PhD I worked under said to me, ‘Look, you have to try things without being scared or thinking about what other people want you to do. Experience it yourself.’ And that sparked something in me.”
This advice allowed Stokes to see the benefits and possibility of pursuing a PhD in research. His experience as a lab technician prompted him to shift his focus from the clinic to the lab.
“The school I go to really points it biology majors toward medicine,” Stokes said. “All our classes are trying to prepare you for that, so I had not even looked at a PhD program.”
Before working on research of his own, his genetics professor at Morehouse gave Stokes a taste of lab life. In her class, she did her best to simulate professional research.
“She tried her hardest to mimic research experience,” Stokes said. “She did not make it about the grades. Instead, we had ongoing projects that benefit her research lab. We put together protocols. Doing this with her made me realize that there is more than medical school.”
The Current Project
Now, Stokes is tackling a project that will build foundational understanding for the physiology of bones. Specifically, his team is tackling the importance of the osteocyte, a bone growth cell.
“This is a fairly new cell,” Stokes said. “There is not much research done on it. It is important for the mechanical sensation that allows our bones to know they are being used or loaded. It is crucial for bone repair.”
Stokes explained that research has its rewards and challenges. However, these things tend to be intertwined. Osteocyte research requires novel projects that may or may not be successful.
“We have to repeat the experiment to gain validity,” Stokes said. “I was working on one aspect in the beginning, and it was working really well. Out of nowhere, it started to go downhill. I was doing it right just a few weeks prior, so I thought maybe it was a personal problem, but that is just the nature of science. However, that is the same thing that keeps me coming back for more, the challenge.”
Stokes completed this research through the Augusta University STAR program. On July 21, he won the M. Ebad Hasan Memorial Award. The recipient is chosen by anonymous nomination to a researcher of outstanding character and STAR quality.
The Kings & Queens Foundation
Stokes realized early in his undergraduate career that knowledge without community focus only benefits the individual. Inspired by the beliefs of his college, he and his best friend founded the Kings & Queens Foundation.
“At Morehouse, they teach us that after college you have the responsibility to give back,” Stokes said. “Then I thought, what is stopping me from giving back now?”
The Kings & Queens Foundation takes place predominately during the summer months. Stokes and his partner focus on cultural enrichment through events and building personal relationships with the students in the program.
“We want to help the youth in Birmingham,” Stokes said. “Some students can’t explore different things simply because of their social group. We give them a safe place to broaden their horizons. We let them know there is more than what is in front of them. We incorporate STEM, history, culture, reading, dance, and life lessons along the way.”
Stokes uses his STEM knowledge and love for his community to encourage the next generation of scientists. His advice to them is simple: persevere and be patient.
“The science field is not easy, but if it something you want to do, do not give up,” Stokes said. “Just because this one biology class did not work out does not mean another won’t. There were times when I wondered if this was for me, but stay with it, because it will pay off in the long run.”