Pierre Fellows Continue Legacy of Engineering Innovation

November 8, 2023 by Renee Fischer

Alumnus Percy Pierre honored by fellowships in his name

A distinguished engineer, academician, and mentor, Percy Pierre, Engr ’67 (PhD), is a trailblazer in his own right as the first African American to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering in the United States.

Now, a cohort of young engineers – the Percy Pierre Doctoral Fellows – are inspired to follow in his footsteps. Created in 2020, this cohort of fellowships attract outstanding future innovators who enhance the excellence of the Whiting School of Engineering.

Noah Barnes, a fellow in mechanical engineering, helps design soft robots, like a flexible micro-catheter to enable brain surgeons to have more control in treating aneurysms. Barnes confirms that receiving the fellowship influenced his decision to attend Johns Hopkins.

“To me, engineering, especially in robotics, it feels like you’re sort of making ideas come to life,” Barnes says. “And this fellowship allowed the freedom to choose labs, to do rotations, and really hone in on what I want to do long-term. So, it definitely had an impact on my decision to come here.”

As an electrical and computer engineer, fellow Savannah Hays focuses on algorithms to improve the analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), specifically harmonization and synthesis of brain MRIs. The goal is to create uniformity to allow for rapid broad-scale reviews of thousands of MRIs at once and to use available data to extrapolate and fill in information that may be missing from existing imaging.

One future clinical application would be to monitor white matter lesions like those that occur with multiple sclerosis, according to Hays who first became involved in this project through the Johns Hopkins Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

“White matter lesions in the brain can oftentimes be very, very small and difficult to see or even notice changes across time,” Hays explains. “So, using an algorithm, we can quickly get very accurate volumetrics of the lesions that might not be noticeable to the human eye.”

Both Barnes and Hays state that being able to collaborate with clinicians at the Johns Hopkins Hospital has enriched the fellowship cohort, which is designed to promote community building, networking, and career and leadership training.

“I’m greatly honored and very appreciative that Hopkins has recognized me, but more importantly, that Hopkins has recognized the need for this fellowship to cultivate the talents of serious students,” Pierre says about the fellowships bearing his name.

“We need their talent in this country,” says Pierre, who earlier in this career led the Army’s development of the Abrams tank and the Patriot missile defense system, both still in use today.

“Percy Pierre is one of the most motivating people that I think that I’ve ever spoken to,” says Hays, who is already hoping to mentor other students herself. “I’m highly involved with the Society of Women Engineers, and I am very passionate about inspiring the next generation of females in engineering.”

“Diversity always brings new perspectives and new ways of thinking, especially in higher education and research,” adds Barnes. “And the fellowship inspires me to think bigger for myself and have more ambition for what I can achieve and how I can also be a trailblazer in my own way, in my own world.”


Topics: Whiting School of Engineering, Fuel Discovery, Support Scholars