Montgomery County Community College is honored to have Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett – one of the lead scientists who helped to develop the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine – as this year’s speaker for the annual Presidential Symposium on Diversity on Wednesday, Oct. 20, starting at 12:30 p.m.
“We are delighted to have Dr. Corbett to not only talk about coronavirus research and the development of the Moderna vaccine but also about her advocacy for STEM education and vaccine awareness,” said Rose Makofske, MCCC Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator, who organizes the annual event.
MCCC’s Presidential Symposium is a capstone event that advances and facilitates ongoing public dialogue on diversity and inclusiveness among students, faculty, staff and the community. This year’s Symposium will be held online via Zoom. The event is free and open to the community but registration is required.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), described Corbett as “widely recognized in the immunology community as a rising star,” when he nominated her for TIME magazine’s 2021 TIME 100 Next list. He also said, “As a result, her work will have a substantial impact on ending the worst respiratory-disease pandemic in more than 100 years.”
Corbett’s interest in science started at a young age. When growing up in Hillsborough, North Carolina, she was fortunate to have teachers who recognized her curiosity for learning. Through their encouragement along with her mother’s, Corbett participated in a research program that fueled her interest in science, leading her to the University of Maryland to study biological sciences and to the University of North Carolina for her Doctor of Philosophy in microbiology and immunology.
As the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the NIH, Corbett spent more than six years with the team working on vaccines for coronaviruses, building on decades of work to understand how the viruses function. The COVID-19 vaccine is the third outbreak, following the sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012. Using this knowledge, the team was ready to develop a vaccine when they received the sequence for COVID-19.
Currently, Corbett is an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She devotes much of her spare time to advocating for vaccines and STEM education often in communities of color.
In Nature, Corbett explains why this outreach is so important to her.
“Vaccines have the potential to be the equalizer of health disparities, especially around infectious diseases. I could never sleep at night if I developed anything – if any product of my science came out – and it did not equally benefit the people that look like me. Period,” Corbett said.
The Presidential Symposium is part of MCCC’s ongoing commitment and work focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. This year, MCCC is one of ten colleges nationwide selected to participate in an inaugural Racial Equity Leadership Academy, a joint initiative of the University of Southern California and Achieving the Dream foundation. MCCC is excited about this focused work on closing the racial equity gap with the assistance and expertise of these august institutions.