Dick Cone Award 2020: Rita Barakat

Originally Published April 9, 2020

Rita’s acceptance speech:

When I first joined the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) at USC in the Fall of 2016, I knew that I wanted to study the biological underpinnings of language in the brain, and how humans acquire language throughout development. I never anticipated that I would have the opportunity to begin translating my disciplinary understanding of language and human cognition into something that could have a profoundly positive impact on my community. But then again, I did not become aware of the incredible work being done at the Joint Educational Project (JEP), and specifically the Young Scientists Program (YSP), until late Spring 2017. That was when I met JEP STEM Programs Director, and now a close friend and colleague, DJ Kast. She and I began working together on curriculum development and grant writing for YSP in earnest in the Fall of 2017, and I haven’t looked back since.

I now serve as a Program Assistant, Site Coordinator and Research Manager for YSP, and I am so honored to have had the chance to work with all the undergraduate and graduate student staff, as well as the community volunteers, teachers, and most of all, K-5 students that YSP serves. I’ve taught three generations of fourth grade students at 32nd Street USC Performing Arts Magnet School, trained undergraduate and graduate staff members on instructional practices, communication strategies and research methods, written over 12 grants or other funding applications on behalf of YSP and other JEP STEM Programs (including the Medical STEM Program (MSP) and the Wonderkids Program), and played a role in a number of published lesson plans. These accomplishments pale in comparison to meaningful relationships I’ve made along the way: with all the JEP staff and students, as well as the community partners we work with. It is an indescribable honor to receive this award, particularly because of the recognition it pays to the late Richard “Dick” Cone, a leader and human being I wish I could have met and who is described by everyone who knew him as a warm, genuinely kind soul. I can only hope to continue part of Dick Cone’s legacy in promoting educational access for all, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion, identity or wealth.