Stevens Welcomes 10-Year-Old Aspiring Scientist and ‘Spotted Lanternfly Hero’
Thanks to an alumni connection, Bobbi Wilson and her family toured the university and met with student leaders to discuss what it’s like to find community at Stevens.
“When she was really little, she used to run around with her arms stretched out behind her like a cape,” says Monique Joseph of her youngest daughter. “We used to say, ‘here comes Bobbi Wonder!’” Since then, Bobbi’s nickname stuck. It continues to be an apt descriptor, now of a curious 10-year-old who is inspired by the wonders of nature.
“I like to make stuff and solve problems,” says Bobbi, who uses essential oils and plant products like aloe and shea butter to make personal care items. Her creations not only smell good, they address problems with natural ingredients. When Monique was planning a visit to friends in Ghana during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bobbi developed and packaged her own formula for hand sanitizer — complete with the natural mosquito repellant citronella — for her mom to share with the group upon arrival in the West African country, where malaria is endemic.
The journey that brought Bobbi to Stevens, however, began almost a year ago.
A Neighbor’s Call Exposes Harmful Biases Close to Home
In October 2022, Bobbi took on another pest — this time, the invasive spotted lanternflies posing a threat to trees and other native plants in her Caldwell, New Jersey, neighborhood. After seeing the bugs crawling on a cherry tree on her street (from which she harvests flowers to scent her lotions), Bobbi mixed a solution of water, dish soap and apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle and got to work fighting the infestation. When a neighbor saw her, he called the police, saying “There’s a little Black woman walking, spraying stuff on the sidewalks and trees ... I don’t know what … she’s doing. Scares me, though.” When asked for a description, the neighbor told the dispatcher that she was a “real tiny woman” wearing a “hood.”
Being stopped and questioned by the police was confusing for Bobbi and distressing for her family, Joseph told CNN in a November 2022 interview. The incident made national headlines and prompted discussions on the ongoing issue of racial profiling in the United States. It also inspired an outpouring of support for Bobbi in her local community — and from the wider STEM community, who want to ensure her scientific spark continues to burn brightly.
Nurturing a Love of Science
Though the emotional effects of the incident persist, Joseph is intent on turning a negative into a positive for her family. “It started from something ugly, but it helped me realize I have a little chemist on my hands,” she says. “I have to nurture this.” That’s why she’s been bringing Bobbi, as well as her older daughter, Hayden, 14, and niece Olivia, 14, on college visits — years before they’ll apply. Bobbi has received a lot of invitations, says Joseph, but Stevens stood out due to its strong STEM reputation and a recommendation from a friend whose father attended the university.
STEP Summer Bridge Program, as well as the career successes of Stevens alumni, like Sabrina Henry ’09 M.Eng. ’11. Bobbi, Hayden and Olivia were impressed with Stevens’ variety of extracurricular leadership experiences, as well as how these activities can be a springboard for career preparation and networking.The family visited Stevens in early August and took a campus tour led by electrical engineering major Elizabeth MacDonald Class of 2025. After the tour, they met with Liliana Delman, director of the Office of Student Culture and Belonging, as well as two student leaders, Autumn Coleman Class of 2026 and Romeo Willis Parreott Class of 2025, for an insider perspective on academics, campus life, and Black student leadership at Stevens. The free-flowing conversation touched on student support services offered at the university, like the
Coleman, a mechanical engineering major and a Stevens Technical Enrichment Scholar, found professional and social community through her involvement with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Black Student Union. She keeps in touch with new connections made at a recent NSBE conference who provide mentorship and career advice.
Willis Parreott, a software engineering major, is a leader in both NSBE and Stevens’ chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., a national fraternity focused on academic excellence, leadership and community service. He told Bobbi, Hayden and Olivia about his recent trip to the fraternity’s general convention in Dallas, where he met and networked with brothers from around the world.
“It was truly an honor to welcome Bobbi and her family to campus and discuss Stevens’ programs for women’s empowerment like the Lore-El Center for Women’s Leadership and Living Learning Communities like WiMSE (women in math, science, and engineering),” says Delman. “Witnessing these future leaders and aspiring scientists — ranging in age from 10 to 21 — share their accomplishments, hopes and dreams, was a powerful reminder of the important role we have in nurturing their development and empowerment.”