2018 Program Scholars

Meet our 2018 undergraduate student scholars from UC Santa Barbara, HBCUs, and other colleges and universities in the U.S. 

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Nardos Shiferaw is a rising junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is majoring in Cultural Anthropology with a plan to double major in Language, Culture, and Society. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to Ethiopian refugees. She feels her experiences growing up in a diverse city to refugee parents has greatly affected her research interests which includes linguistics, anthropology, and public health. For this program she is researching how the false perception of a monolithic black identity has affected the language maintenance of 2nd generation Ethiopian-Americans and how K-12 dual language programs and college level language course could have helped 2nd generation Ethiopian-Americans maintain and empower their heritage language. She holds membership in the Black Student Union and served as a Gaucho Safer Sex Peer and African Diasporic Cultural Resource Center Mentor for the 2017-2018 school year.

Khari at Santa Ynez auto

Khari Stinson Khari was first drawn to his declared major, Physics, by the study of elementary particles, the most basic components of matter. His primary focus in linguistics is similar: phonology, the study of the smallest units of words. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Khari transferred to UCSB in 2017. At his previous institution, MiraCosta College, he was a member of Umoja, a California-wide intercollegiate community dedicated to promoting success in higher education for members of the African diaspora. Besides physics and linguistics, Khari enjoys learning languages, studying game design, making new friends, and talking to old ones. He is a driven student who sets high standards for himself, and plans to add Linguistics as a second major in the near future.

Deonna T. Williams is a senior psychology major completing her undergraduate degree from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, VA. Deonna’s hometown is Trenton, NJ. Her research interest include mental health and wellness in African American communities and the relationship between home and work life. At Norfolk State University, Deonna is the 2017-2018 White House HBCU All-Star, a member of the Robert C. Nusbaum Honors College, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity. Deonna lives her life by the motto “All things are possible through hard work and faith in the Lord”.


De’Jahnique Weekes is a senior at Norfolk State University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Mathematics, and will be graduating December 2018. De’Jahnique is from Newport News, Virginia and hopes to attend law school in the near future. De’Jahnique’s research interests includes how current African American law students navigate the language and culture of law school with other aspects of their life. At Norfolk State, De’Jahnique is a supplemental instructor in the math department for Dr. Rhonda Fitzgerald. On her spare time, De’Jahnique loves to binge-watch shows on Netflix, spend time with her family and friends, and travel.

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Erika Neal is a third-year provost scholar at Virginia State University majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish. Erika was born and raised in Richmond, VA. This summer she is studying the best methods to teach Spanish to African American college students at Historically Black Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. Erika plans to use this research to increase the number of students that are enrolled in the Spanish minor to create a Spanish major at her institution. Erika is a proud member of the Virginia State University Honors Program where she serves as a student leader. She also holds leadership positions in the Virginia State University Chapter of Pretty Girls Sweat, The National Society for Leadership and Success, Golden Key International Honor Society, and Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honors Society. As Erika continues towards her ultimate career goal of becoming the Governor of Virginia and a U.S. Senator she never forgets to give back to the people and communities that have given her the opportunity to excel in her education. 


Brittney Caesar, a 2018 graduate of Virginia Union University (VUU) is from the lower class communities in the city that never sleeps, Brooklyn, NY. She aspires to be a beauty and content creator.  Currently serves as an ambassador for the city of Richmond’s Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, Brittney is skilled in intercultural competence with expansive international travel experience. Brittney has a habitat of using her style as a daily inspiration for productivity, creativity, self-expression and is seeking a platform to share and build on past and future experiences.

Tony Hawks Jr. is a senior at Virginia Union University majoring is Mass Communication with a minor in Theater. Tony was introduced to the world of theater and dance by one of his high school music teachers. He received numerous scholarships to attend Rayn Falls Dance Studio, the Ballet Royale Company, and the Dance Theater of Harlem. Hawks has been a part of a gun violence commercial and one short film called, Love, Dante. He had the opportunity to work with MTV Video Music Award-winning  cinematographer, Baxter Stapleton and director Chinedum Nwaigwe. Tony is currently a member of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Incorporated, Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity, the National Society of Leadership and Success, and the National Association of Black Journalist. During his last semester at Virginia Union University, Tony will be wrapping up his final year of being a Lead Resident Assistant at Virginia Union University.  He is currently working towards becoming an Actor, Creative Director, Social Media Marketing Coordinator and a Professional Photographer. Tony runs a photography company called Hawkseyeview Photography, where he does all of the creative directing, styling, movement coaching, and social media marking.

Latoya Lewis is a recent graduate of Virginia Union University and majored in Communications with a focus in Public Relations. Originally from Mississauga Ontario, Latoya comes from a West Indian/Caribbean background with her mother being from Guyana, South America and father Saint Ann Parish Jamaica. After leaving Ontario, she was raised in Jamaica and eventually traveling back and forth between Brooklyn, NY and Guyana where she spent extended periods of time in Guyana with her older siblings and extended family before settling in Brooklyn, NY. Latoya is familiar with traveling as she has been provided the ability to have lived in three different countries and visited 16 total. She aspires to continue traveling and building up credibility, becoming an international correspondent and getting involved in foreign policy.


Asha Fola-Whigham is an upcoming junior at Virginia Union University majoring in Elementary Education. She is a member of her university’s honors program and a member of the Honda Campus All-star challenge team. In her spare time, she enjoys Korean dramas, the show Black Lightening, spending time with her family, and going to church. Her goal is to do research and educational policy to support the academic success of exceptional and minority students and hopes to become Secretary of Education someday. She is seven years #ChiariStrong. Asha is also looking forward to do linguistic research this summer.

Fredrick Thompson is from Augusta, Georgia and is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University and a member of the 2020 class of Emory Woodruff Scholars. Frederick is double majoring in two of his passions, Linguistics and Dance and Movement Studies. While at Emory University, he has been heavily involved in campus organizations like the Emory Dance Company, the Emory University Concert Choir, and even served as a Sophomore Advisor as a part of the Office of Residential Life. His passion for linguistics stems from also being an avid language learner. After becoming proficient in Spanish during high school, Fredrick went on to take two years of Mandarin Chinese and Korean language courses. His research in linguistics has mainly focused on the representation of African American English in recent mainstream sitcoms including “`black-ish” on the ABC network. Through the UCSB-HBCU Linguistics Scholars program, he hopes to extend his research into more diverse areas of the African American experience.