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At just 9 years old Bobbi Wilson has already achieved goals some scientists only dream of reaching. The precocious young woman, known as “Bobbi Wonder,” received honors from Yale University for her efforts eradicating an invasive bug species.

Bobbi’s project involved research and data collection in her hometown of Caldwell, New Jersey. Specifically, she targeted the invasive spotted laternfly. 

Meanwhile, Bobbi’s accomplishments didn’t come without trouble. In fact, while collecting data she was the subject of a “suspicious person” complaint.

Bobbi Wilson holds her lanternfly collection, joined by her parents. (Yale)

Bobbi Wilson’s experiences spurred a national discussion about racial profiling. Bobbi was reported by a neighbor while collecting lanternflies on trees near her home.

Bobbi’s mother, Monique Joseph, articulated that Bobbi’s experiences were a shocking act of racism directed toward an innocent young girl. Monique Joseph stated Bobbi was a target for the color of her skin, “no matter how you sugarcoat it.”

Yet Bobbi persevered in her efforts to pursue her scientific dreams, in spite of the hardship she faced. Now she wants to pave the way for other young Black scientists and researchers.

Yale honors 9-year-old Black scientist

When scientists at Yale University learned of her research – and her plight – they invited Bobbi Wilson to campus. There she met other successful Black female scientists and researchers like herself.

Citizen scientist Bobbi Wilson officially labels a specimen in her spotted lanternfly collection as part of her donation to Yale’s Peabody Museum. (Photo by Andrew Hurley/Yale)

Bobbi went to Yale again on Friday, receiving honors. According to Yale School of Public Health Assistant Professor Ijeoma Opara, “We wanted to show her bravery and how inspiring she is, and we just want to make sure she continues to feel honored and loved by the Yale community.”

Bobbi’s collection of invasive lanternflies is now on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum, in the Entomology Collection. Yale researchers noted that research from such young scientists typically does not feature in the Ivy League school.

A close-up of Bobbi Wilson’s spotted lanternfly collection. (Photo by Andrew Hurley/Yale)

In addition to displaying her work, Yale also held a reception honoring Bobbi. Those in attendance included Professor Trace Kershaw, chair of the YSPH Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences who worked with Opara in bringing Bobbi to Yale; representatives of the Yale Black Postdoctoral Association who helped introduce Bobbi to Black scientists on campus; and Connecticut state Rep. Robyn Porter (D-Hamden).

Her family is grateful to the Yale community for recognizing Bobbi’s extraordinary efforts. In particular, Bobbi Wilson’s achievements have also impacted her older sister, another budding scientist.

According to Monique Joseph, “This happened because of what happened to Bobbi, but it also happened because the whole community, the science community, got together and said ‘She’s one of us and we’re not going to let her lose her steam for STEM. We’re going to support the family, we’re going to support this girl, we’re going to make sure her big sister Hayden doesn’t lose that light.’”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...