Black academic success in sciences: a conversation

February 22, 2021

On February 16, 2021, six members of the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) gathered to talk about their experiences in sciences and academia as Black students, faculty, and alumni. This discussion explores the challenges and successes in sciences and academia, and why mentorship and representation matters.

Read the transcript of the conversation here

Henrietta Ezegbe



Dr. Henrietta Ezegbe is a physician and public health practitioner. She completed her MD at the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria before practicing in infectious disease prevention and control. However, she realized that further training could help her prevent the diseases she was treating in person after person. This served as her inspiration to pursue a Master of Public Health degree with a Global Health concentration at SFU.

A lifelong learner and passionate advocate, Henrietta’s work centres around health and gender equity, social justice, intersectional feminism, infectious diseases and lifestyle medicine. Outside of professional work, she is interested in travel, fitness, yoga practice, creative writing, culinary therapy, and photography.


Tsion Gebremedhen


Originally from Toronto, Tsion is a second year student of Ethiopian descent studying in the Master of Public Health program at SFU. Prior to this, she completed a BSc at McMaster University, and proceeded to work in the public health field in Ethiopia. Tsion hopes to pursue a career in public health, specifically in low- and middle-income countries, working with different communities to help build sustainable and equitable health infrastructure, implement positive action programs, and support local capacity building.

Angela Kaida

ANGELA KAIDA, MSc PhD, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair Tier II in Global Perspectives in HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health

Dr. Angela Kaida is a global health epidemiologist interested in the linkages between HIV and sexual and reproductive health. She received her PhD in 2010 from the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She then completed a brief post-doctoral fellowship jointly at the Women’s Health Research Institute at BC Women’s Hospital and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UBC. In addition to her academic training, Dr. Kaida has substantial experience as a public health practitioner, having worked with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Alberta Ministry of Health and Wellness, and the Public Health Division of the Capital Health Authority. Dr. Kaida joined the FHS in September 2010 and commenced her Canada Research Chair in January 2012.

Nafoni Modi

NAFONI MODI, BSc candidate – fourth year (she/her/hers)

I am passionate in work related to mental health and sexual health, specifically in Black women. I’m excited to participate in this panel and have the opportunity to listen and learn from other Black individuals who have garnered success in academia. I think it's really important to have a chance to speak openly about what it means to be Black in these spaces, because while it may be a shared experience between us, it is not a monolithic experience, and each of us face an individual and unique reality on what it means to be a visibly Black and successful individual in academia.

Ralph Pantophlet

RALPH PANTOPHLET, PhD, Associate Professor, CIHR New Investigator, MSFHR Scholar

Dr. Pantophlet joined the FHS in 2008 and heads the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Immunology. He is an Associate Faculty member of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Dr. Pantophlet received his BSc in medical microbiology from the Hogeschool Rotterdam & Omstreken (The Netherlands) (1995) and his PhD from the University of Leiden (The Netherlands) (1999) for his work on the immunochemical properties of Acinetobacter lipopolysaccharides (performed at the Research Center Borstel, Germany). He moved to The Scripps Research Institute in California (2000) for postdoctoral research on anti-HIV antibodies and vaccine design under the mentorship of Dr. Dennis Burton. Dr. Pantophlet returned to the Research Center Borstel for a brief postdoctoral period (2002) and then rejoined the Burton laboratory as a senior postdoctoral fellow to focus on HIV vaccine design (2003).

Gisele Umviligihozo


Originally from Rwanda, Gisele completed a BSc in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Rwanda and holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Infectious Diseases from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Gisele has extensive experience working in clinical laboratory research, learning the dynamics of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission and testing potential HIV vaccines.

Currently studying in the PhD program in the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU; Gisele’s research focuses on the study of viral infections and their interaction with the human immune system.

 A friend of nature, Gisele also likes to discover new places, and to laugh out loud!