Samantha (Sammy) Mensah – talented scientist, passionate activist, co-founder of BlackInChem, and UCLA Bruin – passed away on February 22, 2023.
Sammy was a 6th-year chemistry graduate student in the groups of Professors Paul Weiss and Anne Andrews where she studied biosensors that detect neurotransmitters and other chemical biomarkers. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, with a minor in nanoscience, from the University of Central Florida in 2017 and her master’s degree in materials chemistry in 2019 from UCLA.
While at UCLA, Sammy was recognized with many awards and honors. She received UCLA’s prestigious 2021 Graduate Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award and the 2021 Royal Society of Chemistry: Inclusion & Diversity Prize. She was also honored with the 2022 Winifred Burks-Houck Graduate Leadership Award by the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. Sammy’s graduate research was supported by both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But more importantly than all her degrees and honors, Sammy was a committed member of our UCLA community and a natural leader. “Sammy was a friend, colleague, and mentor to many people across UCLA and beyond. The impact she had cannot be measured, and she is already sorely missed.” said Neil Garg, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry chair.
Sammy helped to build not just a system, but a culture that nurtures fellow Black and underrepresented scientists. She served as co-president of UCLA’s Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS), a group founded in the Chemistry & Biochemistry department which now serves the entire Division of Physical Sciences.
“Sammy was an outstanding graduate student, activist and friend to me, the OCDS board, and countless others. She was an integral member of OCDS formerly serving in many leadership roles including President. The gap that this loss leaves is huge and we are committed to honoring her incredible legacy and work at UCLA and beyond,” said Chemistry & Biochemistry graduate student Hayden Montgomery, OCDS co-president.
In 2020, Sammy co-founded BlackInChem, a nonprofit that helps Black chemists network and support each other with the aim of boosting diversity in the sciences. That same year, Sammy and other UCLA graduate students started a fundraising campaign to endow an annual UCLA lectureship series to celebrate Black chemists and biochemists.
“Throughout her time at UCLA, Sammy worked tirelessly to make STEM fields more welcoming and accessible to people of color and women,” said Miguel García-Garibay, Dean of the UCLA College of Physical Sciences. “The entire UCLA College has been enriched and improved thanks to Sammy.”
In 2022, Sammy received a National Security Education Program David L. Boren Fellowship to conduct research at the University of Ghana in Accra. While there, she worked with the West African Center for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens to increase research and innovation among biomedical scientists and industry leaders across Africa.
“Through her DEI and other initiatives, Sammy pursued creative and long-lasting avenues toward a more diverse and equitable environment at UCLA and beyond. She has undoubtedly motivated members of our University community to strive for excellence,” said one of Sammy’s advisors, Professor Anne Andrews.
That sentiment was echoed by Sammy’s second advisor, Professor Paul Weiss, who said “Sammy personally took on the challenge to make our department, UCLA, and the academic community better and more welcoming places. She had a tremendous impact and we will follow through on what she started.”
The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is committed to continuing Sammy’s efforts to amplify the voices of Black chemists. More details about how her memory will be honored will come later.
Sammy will be deeply missed by us all. If you are in need of additional support or someone to talk to during this time, please make use of the resources available on campus to students, faculty, and staff.
Campus resources for students:
CAPS is available Monday through Thursday 9am – 4pm and Friday 9 AM-3 PM for walk-in/triage appointments. If you are already receiving care at CAPS feel free to call CAPS at 310-825-0768 to connect with services. 24/7 crisis support is always available by phone at 310-825-0768.
CAPS Behavioral Wellness Center (BWC) offers mental health treatment for graduate and professional school students. To make an appointment, call CAPS mainline, 310-825-0768, for a triage appointment.
Campus resources for faculty and staff:
Staff and Faculty Counseling Center
Ben Paul, UCLA Division of Physical Sciences, and Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, email@example.com