Breanna Lee Receives Women of Color STEM Research Award


Breanna Lee’s passion for research has followed an interesting path.

As the youngest child in her family by 13 years, Lee said she sometimes felt like she grew up an only child. This left her to pursue her scientific curiosity by building her own toys, playing on her parents’ Dell Pentium 2 Windows ’98 computer and conducting science experiments at home.

While there are surely more stops to come on her journey, Lee recently reached an important one by receiving the Women of Color STEM Research Award.

For more than 20 years, Women of Color STEM has recognized the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. The Women of Color STEM awards advance the organization’s mission to recognize excellence as a means for sustaining and growing the STEM pipeline.

Lee, a senior in chemical engineering and Baton Rouge native, said it is inspiring to have a community that wholeheartedly supports her and roots for her success.

“I was overcome with gratitude,” Lee said. “Being selected to receive a national award from such a tremendous organization is beyond amazing.”

“This passion for discovery has never left me,” she added. “In high school, I attended REHAMS and fell in love with chemical engineering. The idea of scaling up small experiments was exciting and I dreamed of managing large processing operations.”

During her freshman year of college, Lee received the LASTEM scholarship, which played a pivotal role in providing her with the resources to pursue research.

“This program inspired me to not only acquire knowledge in engineering but to push the limits and discover what has not yet been discovered,” Lee said.

As a freshman at LSU, Lee sought to determine concrete and asphalt compositions to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions in big cities. She also participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Colorado School of Mine in Golden, Colo., where she worked to optimize anion exchange membrane fuel cells.

In January 2017, Lee attended the Focus event at Georgia Institute of Technology, a program in which top students are invited to campus in order to encourage them to pursue graduate school at the university.

Ayanna Howard, professor and chair of bioengineering in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said Lee took the initiative to request a meeting with her while she was she was at Georgia Tech.

“I was immediately impressed with her poise, intellect and excitement for engineering and science and her desire to continue the pursuit of her graduate education,” Howard said.

Over the summer, Lee worked with Howard to program a Nao robot that acts as a therapy coach during rehabilitation scenarios for children with cerebral palsy while playing a virtual reality serious game called Super Pop VR™. Her research resulted in her obtaining a first-author publication.

Lee is currently working with LaVonda Brown, an assistant professor in the Division of Electrical and Computer Engineering at LSU, to develop gestures on a humanoid platform that conveys emotions humans are able to understand. In addition to this, she is working on a robotic therapist system to better the quality of life for children with motor skill disorders.

After graduation, Lee plans to pursue a doctorate degree in computer science with a focus in machine learning and data science. She would like to utilize medical big data to optimize diagnostic technology for neurological disorders. She is also interested in developing recommendation algorithms for personalized treatment plans.

“I am a firm believer that learning should never be a limit,” Lee said. “I want to spread the message that diversity in STEM is beneficial to everyone. It allows an array of unique perspectives to come together and tackle the world’s greatest challenges.”



Story by Raven Nichols, communications intern. For more information, contact Joshua Duplechain, director of communications.