Carnegie Mellon University
June 29, 2023

Jasmine Kwasa Named Fulbright U.S. Scholar

By Caroline Sheedy

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Marketing and Communication, MCS
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Jasmine Kwasa, a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University’s Neuroscience Institute, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to expand access to quality epilepsy monitoring in Kenya. The Fulbright Scholar Program provides funding for U.S. residents to teach, conduct research and carry out professional projects around the world.

Kwasa works in the labs of Pulkit Grover, Angel Jordan Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Neuroscience Institute, and Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, director of the Neuroscience Institute and George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Auditory Neuroscience. Kwasa is also the chief technology officer of Precision Neuroscopics, a startup that sells inclusive neural technology products. 

Kwasa’s research is focused on testing and designing products like Sevo clips — devices used to help electroencephalography (EEG) machines work on people with coarse, curly, dense and afro-textured hair. She'll take that testing further at the Brain and Mind Institute at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kwasa fits a person with Sevo clips.

"We know that our devices can be used with EEG to effectively monitor seizures, strokes, brain injuries and sleep disorders, but we need to do more testing. Here in the U.S. many people who consider themselves as racially Black actually have mixed ancestry because of slavery, so their hair type is variable. In Kenya, though there is a lot of mixing across tribes, most people are solely African, and testing on those phenotypes is very different because the hair has much tighter curls, on average. We want to make sure that we're including those hair types specifically," Kwasa said. 

At Aga Khan, Kwasa will also help to set up an EEG research lab, bringing cutting-edge EEG analysis to epilepsy care.

"We’ll be expanding access to pivotal brain science in East Africa,” Kwasa said. “They're really thinking a lot about brain health and trying to be pioneers in that field, talking to people about their work and getting rid of the stigma around it."

Grover said this project represents something he and Kwasa have dreamed about for a long time. 

"Dr. Kwasa's Fulbright award will kick off collaborations with five additional hospitals and universities in Africa," he said. "It’s a thrilling start."

Kwasa always wanted her work to reflect her culture and be based in social justice.

"I'm really interested in expanding beyond the American cultural context of marginalized groups and thinking about marginalized groups around the world," she said. "The Fulbright award is special, both in terms of scientific expansion in a global health approach, and for me personally, because I’m half Kenyan. It's my family, it's my people, it's the people who look like me."

Shinn-Cunningham, Kwasa’s long-time mentor and colleague, said she embodies the best of CMU. 

"Dr. Kwasa uses her exceptional scientific and engineering skills to address inequities and make the world a better place. I think I've learned more from her than she has from me, and I cannot wait to see what comes out of this exciting project," she said. 

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