CSUMB grad Jada Carter harmonizes diversity, science and success

Carter at Stamford Beach in Connecticut tagging near-threatened horseshoe crabs.

Jada Carter at Stamford Beach in Connecticut tagging near-threatened horseshoe crabs.

June 28, 2021

By Walter Ryce

Jada Carter, who recently graduated cum laude from CSUMB with a degree in biology, embodies an impressive range of diversity in their personal life, academic path, and future career in science — while reconciling it for themselves and others.

“Others try to create the illusion that a scientist can't be queer and black and a womxn all at the same time,” Carter said. “But I think harmony among my identities is innate. Though that societal pressure can infiltrate the psyche, I fight it off by surrounding myself with people who understand my experience and have had similar experiences.”

In a sense, they are studying the science of diversity as a key to sustaining and nurturing human life on the planet. Carter’s interest in biology and chemistry began early — and on tv.

“I spent a lot of time alone watching nature, space, history, and engineering documentaries and it gave me a curiosity that encompassed many scientific disciplines,” Carter said.

They began their studies at CSUMB as a marine science major, but switched to biology in order to cultivate their curiosity and open up more science avenues and career paths.

During Carter’s first-ever college research experience, they worked on sustainable batteries in the Goeltz Lab of Applied Electrochemistry at CSUMB. They did a stint at New York University’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, researching plant evolutionary genomics of salt stress tolerance in African rice.

“That project, for me, solidified the link between social justice and environmental justice,” they said. “We tend to believe social justice issues and environmental justice issues aren't linked. They are — irrefutably.”

That belief has manifested outside of the classroom too, with volunteer work for the Bureau of Land Management and the SPCA of Monterey County.

“Neither the land nor animals can speak for themselves,” Carter says. “They need people to understand their history and current situation to speak on their behalf.”

At the BLM, Carter worked to protect the ecology of the Fort Ord National Monument and connect its natural green spaces to underrepresented people in Monterey County. They cite the interconnections of life on earth: trees pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, bacteria that fix nitrogen in the creation of DNA and proteins, birds and bees that pollinate plants for humans’ food and shelter.

Carter is focusing next on food production in America, where, they point out, people of color have more food insecurity, less access to fresh food, and more corner stores than grocery stories.

So they are headed to Europe. Carter will pursue their master’s degree in organic agriculture with a specialization in agroecology at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands. They intend to study food production changes due to climate change, and cutting-edge research in utilizing biodiversity for the best harvest results, and bring that knowledge back to the States. 

“California has a massive farming industry that seems to underestimate the threat that climate change poses.”

They also want to safeguard small farmers, low-income consumers, and local animals and plants.

After study in Europe, the plan is to pursue a doctorate degree in plant physiology or molecular plant physiology, and to “return to the U.S. to work for the Department of Agriculture and revolutionize sustainable agriculture on a large scale.”

They describe their four years at CSUMB as “remarkable and full of growth.”

“It is a place where I felt free to take charge of my education and be who I am. As a queer, Black individual in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math], it can be hard to look around a room and not see people who look like you. But I know that by doing what I'm doing, I'm making space for those who look and feel like I do.”

While looking forward, Carter gives a shout out to mentors at CSUMB who made it possible for them to feel at home in the science community. They include John Goeltz, Nathaniel Jue, Katherine Nelson, Jennifer Kato, Cecile Mioni, and the team at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC) — “Including, but not limited to, Corin White, Eric Barajas, and John Banks.

"Without them," Carter says, "I wouldn't be the scientist that I am.”