New award in support of Black students developed by Augustana chemistry professor

Named in his honour, professor James Kariuki hopes that the new award will increase diversity on campus, even if it’s one student at a time.

Tia Lalani - 23 March 2021

Augustana professor James Kariuki was working with the Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program out of the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta when he was inspired to take this important work a step further, and a step closer to home.

Beginning in the Fall of 2021, any student with satisfactory academic standing who is enrolled in the first year of studies at Augustana, is of African descent and who self-identifies as Black, African-Canadian, African-American, or of Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Latino heritage will be able to apply for the newly developed Professor James Keffa Kariuki Award.

“It’s not that I’ve won the lottery and have a lot of extra money to give, or that I’m trying to become famous,” professor Kariuki laughed when asked about the impetus behind the award. “Instead, it’s about paying back.”

For professor Kariuki, this award is deeply personal. Not only was the award his idea and named in his honour, but professor Kariuki is also the largest contributor with a donation of $3,500, an amount supplemented by an anonymous donor as well as Demetres Tryphonopoulos, the dean of Augustana Campus. 

“I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and my family didn’t have a lot of money,” professor Kariuki explained. “I know that there are students and families in Canada in that same situation, and I’m hoping that this award can make a difference.”

Along with selection based on academic standing, preference for this award will be given to students entering the bachelor of science program with a major or minor in chemistry, the area that professor Kariuki teaches. 

“When I attend large scientific conferences with upwards of 1000 attendees, I often look around and notice that I am the only Black person there. In my chemistry classes at Augustana I also see very few, if any, Black students,” professor Kariuki explained. “The overall goal is to increase enrollment—even one student at a time—of Black students in science.” 

Equal representation is important to professor Kariuki, who also holds the position of the Augustana Faculty Equity, Diversity and Inclusion lead within the University of Alberta, as well as co-lead of Augustana’s own EDI Working Group alongside fellow faculty member professor Sandra Rein. 

“A diverse community is a good community because it offers different ideas and perspectives,” professor Kariuki said. “I think that bringing Black students and other racialized groups to Augustana is going to benefit everyone because we learn from each other and from different perspectives.”

Professor Kariuki also recognizes the extra burden of racialized people on university campuses acting solely as the people who must fight for their own rights.

“I appreciate the support that I’m getting from people who are trying to walk this walk with me, and would like to acknowledge professor Sandra Rein for doing this work,” professor Kariuki said. “Of course I wish there were more Black faculty members at Augustana—maybe my scholarship is the beginning of more Black faculty members here.”

“I would like to congratulate professor Kariuki for his vision and initiative,” said Dean Demetres Tryphonopoulos when asked about the award. “It shall make a crucial difference in the life of an Augustana science student who self-identifies as Black. Obviously, this is only a beginning since it is imperative that we use professor Kariuki’s example in order to imagine and offer similar opportunities to all those students who self-identify as Black so that they may succeed at Augustana and beyond.”

If you would like to contribute to the Professor James Keffa Kariuki Award, please visit Augustana’s Giving Page and include the name of the award in “other/an area not listed”.