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When the parents of two Nigerian immigrants gave birth to a baby boy in 1980, we’re betting they didn’t realize that their son’s name and an umbrella-shaped marine animal would almost be synonymous. Fast forward to John Dabiri‘s summer fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, and his love for Aeronautics and growing interest in bio mechanics and it’s easy to see why he is now revered as a highly revered professor and expert in his field.

During his matriculation at Princeton he was primarily interested in rockets and jets and even spent two summers doing research that included an intense work on helicopter design, but after finishing a project on the vortices created by swimming jellyfish, his love for marine biology increased and ultimately solidified his future career plans.

In 2001 he graduated with a BSE Summa Cum Laude and was a finalist for both the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and the Marshall Scholarship. Additionally he has been awarded NSF research grants eight times in five different fields. Soon after he returned to Caltech for graduate school, earning his Masters in 2003 and Doctorate in 2005.

At 29 Dabiri was offered a tenured position at Caltech as the Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering. Four years later he was appointed as the undergraduate Dean.

In a 2010 interview with NPR he speaks of motivating and encouraging kids to develop a career in STEM research.

Having two parents there who encouraged me and in some cases forced me to study and to really take academics seriously, was very important at an early stage. And then going through school, the role of my teachers was always so important. I remember my fourth grade teacher … [she] made me believe that I was smart and so I took that and sort of owned that and tried to live up to the expectations that she had placed on me, even as a fourth grader. And so we really want to grab hold of the imagination of the first graders and the second graders at a very early stage, and get them excited about becoming scientists, as excited as they are about becoming a fire fighter or the next rap star.

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(Photo Source: Caltech.edu)

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