Jeandele Elliot, 2019

Jeandele Elliot, 2019
Photo credit: Saima Sidik

The chemist and the poet

by Saima Sidik, MIT Biology

Jeandele Elliot spent the summer studying a durable compound in pollen and developing equally durable friendships.

Jeandele Elliot was raised on poetry. Like the Nobel Prize winning writer Derek Walcott, she grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia where the locals celebrate the epic, multi-volume poems that won Walcott the 1992 prize for literature. Elliot grew up with the adults around her extolling Walcott’s brilliance, but it wasn’t until she left St. Lucia that she understood why this island was so inspirational to Walcott. Young Walcott left St. Lucia to pursue a life as a writer decades before Elliot was born; similarly, Elliot left to study chemical engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Although their vocations differ, Walcott infused his work with the qualities of his home country before his death in 2017, just as Elliot does today. While Walcott’s poetry returns again and again to his love for the island’s people and natural landscape, Elliot applies St. Lucia’s culture of hard work and resilience to her science.

These traits have served Elliot well at Howard University, where she’s currently entering her junior year. It also earned her a spot in MIT’s Summer Research Program in Biology (MSRP-Bio), for which she received a scholarship from theGould Fund. During this 10-week internship, Elliot worked in biology professor Jing-Ke Weng’s lab, studying the biochemical pathway that produces sporopollenin, an exceptionally strong substance that coats and protects pollen grains.

Elliot has loved science since she was in high school, and her ambition to be an impactful researcher was initially inspired by the value St. Lucians place on academic success. 

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Timeline: 2010s
School: School of Science
Department: BiologyChemistry
Career: Arts & HumanitiesScience
Object: Photograph
Collection: Caribbean, Howard University, Rising Voices 1995-Present, STEM Education, Students, Women