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Monday, July 4, 2022

Western High School and UMBC Grad Dr. Lekelia “Kiki” Jenkins Baltimore Upbringing Nurtures Interest in Nature and Successful Career

Recalling her childhood, Lekelia “Kiki” Jenkins shared fond memories of growing up in a family that participated in many outdoor activities including fishing and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay. She also worked at the Maryland Zoo as a junior zookeeper, learning about endangered species and conservation.

   Such activities piqued her interest in nature and science, contributing to her mother Phyllis Jenkins placing her in STEM-related activities. Today, the inquisitive youngster who loved nature is an award-winning marine sustainability scientist. The Western High School graduate who went on to receive her doctorate from Duke University in Marine Biology, also has the distinction of being among 120 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Ambassadors, whose 3D statues were on display at the Smithsonian Museum. 

A native of Baltimore and a graduate of Western High School, Dr. Lekelia Jenkins says her mother Phyllis Jenkins played a key role in her success. 

   The AAAS seeks to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people, while the main purpose of the AAAS Ambassadors is to encourage young women to consider a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). 

   The statues are a part of Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN® Initiative #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit. The exhibit of 120, 3-D printed statues celebrates contemporary women innovators in STEM. The exhibit was presented by the Smithsonian Institution in celebration of Women’s History Month, and were placed in museums on and around the National Mall. 

   “I remember going to the Smithsonian on a field trip,” recalled Dr. Jenkins, who is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University. “I remembered being very involved with all the information about the natural world and thinking to myself that ‘I could come here every day of my life.’ This is such an honor.”

   A Meyerhoff Scholar, Dr. Jenkins graduated with a B.S. degree in Biology and a Minor in Dance

from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). As a National Science

Foundation Graduate Fellow, she received her PhD from Duke University by pioneering

a new field of study into the invention and adoption of marine conservation technology.

   During her AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, Dr. Jenkins helped implement

new regulations to address bycatch and illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing

by foreign nations. She later became an Assistant Professor at the School of Marine and

Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington and during this time was awarded

an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in Ocean Sciences.

   “My mother is really foundational to my work,” said Dr. Jenkins. “She recognized in me from a very young age that I had a fond interest in science, and she put me in different science programs in and around Baltimore City. I was fortunate to be in those environments to groom that ability. Looking back, I never had any insecurities about holding my own ground in a field full of men.”

   The native Baltimorean’s work centers on the human dimensions of marine sustainability solutions, including fisheries conservation technologies and marine renewable energy. Dr. Jenkins’ work has led to regulatory changes that allow more sustainable fishing practices, has advised international fisheries diplomacy, and has informed renewable energy policy.

   “What I noticed at a very young age, was that she always liked animals,” said Dr. Jenkins’ mother Phyllis Jenkins, who encouraged parents to look into extracurricular activities and internships for their children. “She was always bringing home guinea pigs, white mice, or whatever. We are also a pet loving family, so there were always animals. She also participated in science fairs. I am very, very proud of Ki-Ki and the importance of her work. Kiki had a dream and something she wanted to accomplish, and she did it.”

   Dr. Jenkins’ research includes field sites along the southeast, west, Gulf, and Alaskan coasts of the

United States, and in Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Scotland. 

   “It’s really important to achieve the goal of breaking open doors for women coming behind me,” said Dr. Jenkins who was recently named an Earth Leadership Fellow and appointed to the

National Academies of Sciences Ocean Studies Board. “I want them to know that this is possible. When it comes to my work, I want to do work that matters, and I want to do work right away that brings about real action and improves the environment.”

   She added, “People are always saying things about Baltimore, but Baltimore has a long history of preserving our waterways, it offered places to go fishing, and there were always rabbits running in our backyard. Baltimore offers so many natural resources. I had a childhood steeped in nature while living in a city that offered so many wonderful amenities such as a powerful institution like Western High School.”

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