Three Whiting School staff members and 5 students pose for a photo in a room with a view of the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
"As we look out at all our exceptional scholars here with us today, I can say without fear of contradiction that dr. Thomas' legacy and spirit is fully alive, embodied in spirit in their own journeys and paths." - Damani Piggott VTSI executive director

Johns Hopkins University officially welcomed the second cohort of Vivien Thomas Scholars earlier this month, a group of 15 PhD students selected to join a prestigious program named for one of the institution’s most celebrated figures.

Vivien Thomas was a Black surgical laboratory supervisor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital for nearly four decades beginning in the 1940s; he trained generations of surgeons and scientists at Hopkins and is perhaps best known for his critical contributions to a lifesaving cardiac surgical technique developed to treat “blue baby syndrome.”

The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative, inspired by his legacy, aims to create pathways for exceptional students from historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions to pursue PhDs in STEM fields at Johns Hopkins.

This year’s cohort comes to Baltimore from across the country, including from some of the nation’s top HBCU’s—Howard, Morehouse, Hampton, North Carolina A&T, Bowie State, and Florida A&M. At Hopkins, they will pursue advanced degrees in a range of STEM fields, from mechanical, biomedical, and environmental engineering to immunology, neuroscience, and computer science.

“As everyone knows, we stand for this initiative on the shoulders of the giant that is Vivien Thomas,” Damani Piggott, VTSI’s executive director and associate vice provost for graduate diversity and partnerships, said Monday evening during a welcome reception for the new cohort.

“As we look out at all our exceptional scholars here with us today, I can say without fear of contradiction that Dr. Thomas’ legacy and spirit is fully alive, embodied in spirit in their own journeys and paths.”

The program—announced in May 2021 and backed by a $150 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Greenwood Initiative, the first-ever Bloomberg Philanthropies portfolio dedicated solely to advancing racial wealth equity—welcomed 20 scholars in its inaugural cohort last summer.

Over six years, the initiative will grow to support 100 PhD students in JHU’s more than 30 STEM programs at the schools of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, and Public Health. Vivien Thomas Scholars receive up to six years of full tuition support, a stipend, health benefits, as well as mentorship, research, and professional development opportunities.

“The Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative was one of the first investments made by the Greenwood Initiative and is emblematic of what we need in communities across the country—expanding opportunities and increasing diversity in STEM professions,” said Garnesha Ezediaro, who leads the Greenwood Initiative.

“I can’t wait to see how this program will propel each one of these exceptional individuals to new heights. We’re already hearing of the great progress from last year’s class, and we’re so excited to continue supporting their achievements.”

Second Vivien Thomas Scholars cohort joining the Whiting School of Engineering


Alyssa Rorie, Geography and Environmental Engineering
Undergraduate institution: North Carolina A&T State University

Aaron Gibbs, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Undergraduate institution: Howard University

Caelyn Sobie, Applied Mathematics and Statistics
Undergraduate institution: Arizona State University-West

David Gordon, Mechanical Engineering
Undergraduate institution: Florida A&M

Noah Drakes, Computer Science
Undergraduate institution: Howard University