2022 Inspire STEM Gala Honorees

Dr. Ojikutu was appointed Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) in September 2021. Prior to this, she served as a Senior Advisor at John Snow Inc, where she directed a  $30-million project to improve HIV care and treatment to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America; and as the Director of the Office of International Programs at Harvard Medical School. 


Dr. Ojikutu graduated from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She completed her internal medicine residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell and Infectious Disease Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is a former Commonwealth Fund Fellow in Minority Health Policy and has a Master’s in Public Health in Health Policy and Management from the Harvard School of Public Health. She is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases and is a Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America.


NSBE Boston Professionals is proud to have Dr Ojikutu not only speaking at this commemorative event, but also honored to present her with the prestigious Trailblazer Award. 

Aisha Francis, Ph.D., was recently named the President and Chief Executive Officer of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology after initially serving as Chief of Staff beginning in 2018. She is pleased to advance the mission of this minority-serving, non-profit technical college based in Boston, MA. This role is an exciting return to the field of higher education for Dr. Francis, who began her career as a college lecturer and adjunct professor. She earned her doctorate in English Literature from Vanderbilt University after graduating from Fisk University and is proud of both her Nashville and Dominican roots. 


The entirety of her professional career has centered on increasing access to education for underserved populations, although she worked across various fields for the past 20 years. In Boston, Aisha previously held leadership roles at Boston Medical Center, the John F. Kennedy Library, and Harvard Medical School.


Aisha is an educator at heart with broad-based experience in philanthropy, change management, and communications. She believes in the collective ability of healthy organizations and well-supported individuals to transform communities negatively impacted by systemic racism and other forms of entrenched injustice. Her leadership roles in board relations and governance, strategic planning, and resource development have underscored her ability to develop trusted relationships and implement programs with significant local and national impact. Aisha is also a civically involved Boston Public School parent who lives in Hyde Park with her husband and two children. 

Deborah C. Jackson became the fourth President of Cambridge College in 2011, bringing to the institution years of leadership across a number of Boston’s leading institutions.  Ms. Jackson assumed this role with a commitment to advance the mission of the College: to provide access to academically excellent, time-efficient and affordable higher education for adults for whom these opportunities may have been limited or denied. Over the course of her career, Ms. Jackson has been committed to the cause of advancing equity of opportunity for people of color and women and advancing racial, social and economic justice.  


Prior to joining Cambridge College, Ms. Jackson served for nearly a decade as CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. Prior positions include her role as Vice President of the Boston Foundation and Senior Vice President at Boston Children’s Hospital.  Ms. Jackson began her career at Abt Associates, one of the nation’s top global research and consulting firms, where she served as the Director of the Health Care and Income Security Group.  


In addition to her professional roles, over the course of her career, Ms. Jackson has committed herself to advancing racial, social and economic justice through service on numerous appointed and elected boards and commissions including service as Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care; the board of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the American Red Cross National Diversity Advisory Council; Chair of the board of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts and on the boards of the American Council on Education’s Commission on Educational Attainment and Innovation, the American Student Assistance Corporation and the Massachusetts Women’s Forum. She served on the transition committee for Governor Deval Patrick when he was elected as the first African-American governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has served on the board of the National Association of Corporate Directors/New England and is currently the Lead Director of the Board of Eastern Bank shares, Inc., becoming the first woman to serve in this capacity in the bank’s 200 year history. She is a frequent speaker and panelist on women and leadership; health and education racial and economic disparities; and board governance topics.   


For her professional and civic accomplishments, Ms. Jackson has been recognized with numerous awards including being noted in numerous years by the Boston Business Journal as one of the city’s 100 most influential leaders and in 2019, being inducted into the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Academy of Distinguished Bostonians. She has been recognized by Boston Magazine’s “100 Most Influential Women in Boston,” and by El Planeta Newspaper’s “100 Most Influential People for Latinos”.  


Ms. Jackson is married to L. Duane Jackson and proudly notes her greatest accomplishments are their two remarkable adult sons, and three amazing grandchildren.  

Rohan Persaud is an Executive Director at Amgen responsible for the overall startup and licensure of their Next Generation Bio-Manufacturing Plant.With over 30 years of pharmaceutical manufacturing and startup experience, Rohan first joined Amgen in 2016 at the Singapore site where he was responsible for the startup of Amgen’s first synthetic manufacturing plant.


Prior to that, he served as site vice president for the Ferring Pharmaceutical USA plant in Parsippany, NJ and spent 22 years at Merck and Co. where he held positions of increasing responsibility. He led both in-line manufacturing and start-up for chemical synthesis, bulk vaccine, solid dosage, sterile formulation and filling and packaging.


His experience at Merck covered several countries including the USA, India, Singapore and Ireland. Rohan has a passion for building and leading teams and is champion for safety. He holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University in NYC. He lives in RI with his wife and youngest son, and enjoys visiting his two older sons in NYC. Rohan enjoys all sports and is an avid cricket fan and enjoys traveling.

Nicole Obi is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA). Previously Vice President, Member Experience & Engagement for BECMA, Nicole Obi believes racial equity and justice are critical to realizing a productive and positive society. Nicole Obi grew up in Framingham Massachusetts and attended Hampton University, a historically Black university, and then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for dual graduate degrees from the Sloan School of Management and the School of Urban Studies & Planning.


After co-founding two venture-backed start-up firms and then leading a strategy consulting firm for seven years, she joined Fidelity Investments in 2007 as a Director within the strategy consulting group. She transitioned from consulting to establishing a first-of-its-kind customer function within the retail business at Fidelity. Obi left Fidelity in 2018 as Vice President of Customer Insights & Engagement Strategy.


Nicole serves on GBH’s Board of Advisors, The Women’s Foundation of Boston’s Board of Advisors, Browning the Green Space’s Board of Directors, the Environmental League of Massachusetts’ Board of Advisors, Longfellow Investment Management’s Board of Advisors, and the Intensive Community Program Committee at the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. 

Dr. Maru Colbert is an engineer, educator, performer and activist.  Her research, engineering and education practice projects span major chemical companies, two start-ups, ten universities and five continents. Her research areas in industry and academia are chemical, environmental and materials engineering and include small-scale process chemistry, reactionware, phytoremediation, nanosensors and atmospheric modeling.

She has been a Sr. Lecturer/Professor/Researcher for over 30 years.  She has a patent and several “named” senior research appointments/fellowships, visiting scholar positions and teaching awards-one international.  Through her five alma maters and several personal partnerships she leads activity groups and does volunteer work in STEM, the arts and entrepreneurship.

A professional challenge she has made personal is adding practice elements to her MIT and related research, combining chemical engineering and urban renewal with environmental and educational justice.  She is a published author and is using her “COVID hiatus” from international research to complete a textbook, continue a leadership series for Postdoctoral and Early Career Women of Color co-developed with the Director of the MIT Energy Initiative for the Association for Women in Science and a theater arts project. 

Maru has been a member of NSBE since her undergraduate days at Cornell University.  Positions she has held in NSBE-Alumni (now Professionals) include Programs Chair, Regional and Local EJSIG Chair, chaperone for both MIT Collegiate and NSBE Jr. and recently, member of the local Scholarship Board.  


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