FIRST GEN. TO FIRST DOCTOR
Cellas' viewpoints within the scientific community find their roots in a distinctive background characterized by his identity as a Black individual hailing from a rural town in Mississippi. Raised by a single mother and a first-generation college graduate, his journey has been unconventional yet instrumental in shaping his perspectives. Rather than seeing his origins as a liability, he has come to perceive them as sources of strength. The way he has weathered challenges and molded his resilience owes much to his upbringing and environment, setting him on a course to become an independent investigator in academia.
To comprehend Cellas' trajectory, it is vital to delve into how the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. came into his life. Until his senior year in high school, college seemed an unattainable dream due to the dearth of opportunities and resources in his surroundings. However, an invitation to the APEX leadership summit at the University of Mississippi marked a turning point. This summit exposed him to college life and provided mentors who guided him through the college application process and its subsequent intricacies. Securing admission, scholarships, and meeting other requisites, he embarked on his academic journey at the University of Mississippi, initially pursuing Pyschology on a pre-med track.
Despite the prevailing encouragement to pursue medicine, Cellas opted to major in Psychology initially but swiftly recognized his lack of passion for the subject. Shifting gears, he decided to major in Classics with a focus on Latin, a decision that was quite unconventional, especially for a young Black man. His ardor for ancient Roman and Greek history and his determination to learn Latin led him to a summer abroad in Rome, Italy. This experience was transformative, as was his subsequent work as an assistant alongside archaeologists, unearthing remains from the 19th century in unmarked graves in Clinton, Mississippi.
While on a pre-med path, Cellas' trajectory veered significantly when he secured a work-study position as a research assistant under Dr. Nicole Ashpole. This marked a pivotal moment, igniting a spark that evolved into a blazing passion for scientific research, mentoring, and diversity, equity and inclusion. He switched his major to Biology and dedicated his remaining undergraduate years to collaborating with Dr. Ashpole, nurturing aspirations of graduate school. His journey was marked by hurdles, and his educational background was not as solid as many of his peers. Despite grappling with challenges and garnering mainly average grades, his resolve to attain a Ph.D. remained unwavering.
The fire within him stemmed from the belief of individuals who not only had faith in his abilities but also in his dream of becoming a scientist. This motivation propelled him to act as a mentor and advocate for students coming from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds. Cellas' aspiration is to impart the same values to future generations, transcending not only the realm of science but the broader spectrum of education. His personal accomplishment of completing a Ph.D. in an impressive 3.5 years at an esteemed R1 institution was nothing short of remarkable. This achievement served as a stepping stone to his current role as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford, reflecting the embodiment of his belief that every person has a unique narrative that can be harnessed to achieve remarkable feats.
His journey underscores that one's story, irrespective of privilege or adversity, can be transformed into something exceptional. Through his example, he demonstrates that unexpected accomplishments are within reach when one follows their genuine path.