Dr. Christopher Blaszczak-Boxe, an avid reader, researcher, and teacher, first found inspiration in his parents and older brother. All smart, high achievers, they taught him the value of hard work and making an impact on the world. A native of Jamaica, his childhood was filled with lessons learned growing up working on their family farms. One was in Kinston, Jamaica; the other was in the parish of St. Catherine. It was there, working alongside a huge extended family Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe affectionally calls a family of “doers,” that he learned how to multitask, a skill soon to be discovered by others who would inspire him to move into his true career path.
As so many did, Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe left his homeland in the early 1980s to come to the United States to pursue an economic opportunity. He went to one of the best Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country – Morehouse College. It was there he received support from The McNair Scholars Program, which is named after Dr. Ronald E. McNair, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut and physicist who was the second African American to fly in space. He ended up working in a lab guided by another influential Black scientist – Dr. James King Jr. A groundbreaking African-American graduate student at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), he earned his Master’s of Science in Chemistry in 1955 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1958, and he was also the first Black Ph.D. to be hired at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. King offered Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe one of his first lab research job, an experience that would change him forever.
In the lab, a young Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe focused on organic and wet chemistry with an emphasis on extracting oils from plants, which could be used for fragrances and aromatherapy. After two years, he moved into planetary research looking at the genesis of life forming molecules and interstellar dust and rings. With his head down and working hard, he finished the program, and he learned a lot during the process. However, what he didn’t realize is that he had impressed Dr. King, who took notice of his hard work, multitasking abilities and intelligence.
One day, Dr. King, asked him what he planned to do after graduating with his B.S. in Chemistry. Inspired by Dr. King for more than three years, Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe responded, “I want to be like you.” And, with that declaration, Dr. King began to tell him all about his alma mater – Caltech. “You don’t know what people see in you, but he told me ‘You are super smart, and you are going to go there,’” Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe remembered.
Astonished, Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe was ready to take the next steps and attend the University. And, with the help of his then mentor and future lifelong friend, Dr. King went on to assist him in his efforts to attend Caltech. Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe successfully earned a Master’s of Science in Environmental Science & Engineering, another Master’s of Science in Planetary Science and a Ph.D. in Environmental Science & Engineering at Caltech.
Staying true to his goal to be like Dr. King, Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe began his professional journey. It includes working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Earth & Space Science Division, teaching at STEM-focused high schools within the borough of Brooklyn, New York as well as working as an associate professor at the City University of New York and Pennsylvania State University. Overall, Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe’s research focuses on solar and extrasolar planetary health. These foci helped him make a connection to NCAS-M, and he now plays a critical role in using his multitasking skills to teach, mentor and research our students.
Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe’s has several students who work with him daily. As a collective, their NCAS-M work focuses on data analytics related to air quality and climate and is ultimately designed to answer some misconceptions about air quality, provide clarity about air quality issues and help bridge the disconnect between the esoteric science being conducted by some scientists to the broader scientific community that is dictated by data. Working with him, students learn statistical analysis to quantify public health impacts. He said, “This is a niche I want to foster and really have it as an asset for Howard and NCAS-M and NOAA, because no one in our field – the geosciences – really does it. I think it will be really advantageous.” This work ultimately converges on using holistic multilevel analysis to understand the health of systems.
With more than 20 years of teaching and mentoring experience, Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe’s remains committed to advancing his students’ intellectual capabilities and empowering them to enter NOAA’s workforce. He does this by offering real life and research experiences like working on the NCAS-M grant and making a connection with students based on the content he teaches in the classroom. He said, he hopes to not just “communicate the content for students to receive it, but to have them evolve from receiving the content.”
Staying grounded in his busy career happens only with the help of two others who happen to live in his home and inspire him. They are his wife, Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, and his cats, Bubbles, Tygresek, and Orangina. Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe says feeling the love from them propels him to be the best he can be each day. Thinking of his wife, he said, “It’s genuine love, and you feel it. She’s my idol.”
NCAS-M’s students and staff are grateful to have Dr. Blaszczak-Boxe and look forward to him inspiring others to join the center and the STEM field.