Thank You to the Volunteers Who Made the 2023 Undergraduate Diversity Program a Success!

By Karilyn Sant posted 04-13-2023 03:40 PM

Winners of the 2023 ToxSquad icebreaker

The SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP) hosted 29 undergraduate students and two advisors at the SOT 62nd Annual Meeting and ToxExpo in Nashville, Tennessee. The SOT Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) and many other SOT members plan and deliver this three-day program that aims to introduce the principles of toxicology, demonstrate how toxicology influences the world around us, and showcase the many careers available within the field. The UDP has been held for 34 years during the SOT Annual Meeting, and the success of the program is a direct result of the dedication and hard work of many volunteers. In this blog, we acknowledge those who gave their time and energy this year.

The UDP kicked off on the evening of Saturday, March 18, 2023. CDI members led several activities to acquaint the participating students with the principles of toxicology and build community with each other. Alexandra Noël delivered a presentation that introduced toxicology concepts and areas of research to the students. Later, the participants had the opportunity to meet and network with UDP alumni, previous CDI members, and others who attended the CDI Reunion. The CDI Reunion is open to all SOT Annual Meeting attendees and is a lively time of engaging with friends and colleagues who have been instrumental in expanding opportunities for undergraduates in toxicology and members who are interested in becoming involved in CDI activities.

On Sunday, the Undergraduate Diversity Program Travel Award recipients were joined by the recipients of the SOT Undergraduate Research Award, ToxMSDT participants, and other undergraduate students registered for the meeting for the Undergraduate Education Program. Michael Aschner, 2022–2023 SOT President, welcomed undergraduates to a day of activities created to increase awareness of toxicology as a science and a career, encourage the pursuit of advanced degrees in biomedical sciences, and improve knowledge of basic principles and concepts in toxicology.

Students pass around objects during a
presentation on microplastics during the
Undergraduate Education Program on Sunday.

Presenters José Manautou, Antonio Baines, and Phoebe Stapleton presented research in several subdisciplines of toxicology and engaged the students with active learning. Then, Dana Haine, Elise Hickman, and Ilona Jaspers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led the student groups in a case study on “Evaluating the Effects of Flavored Electronic Cigarettes on the Respiratory Immune System.”

Following a morning of toxicology presentations, the participants took part in a Graduate Program Breakout session and a Career Roundtable session where they learned about the ins and outs of graduate school as well as different careers in toxicology. Graduate Program Breakout facilitators included Jim Luyendyk, Craig Marcus, Richard Nass, Jonathan Shannahan, and Angela Slitt, while Tonia Voke Aminone, Alex Lovins, Marjorie Marin, Kelly Rivenbark, and Ashley Valentina Schwartz provided graduate student perspectives about applying to and being successful in graduate school. Career Roundtable facilitators included Antonio Baines, Krisa Camargo, Brian Chorley, Michael Dorato, Corie Ellison, Darryl Brice Hood, Vijay Kale, Betina Lew, Frederic Moulin, Cynthia Rider, Karilyn Sant, Jonathan Shannahan, Chelsea Snyder, Shardell Spriggs, and Alessandro Venosa who provided their perspectives on career opportunities in toxicology and contrasted employment in industry, academia, and government.

After an afternoon of these informational and inspiring career-development activities, the participants attended an open session with academic program directors and internship sponsors where they had the chance to meet with representatives from 33 academic programs to learn about those programs and summer internship opportunities. CDI appreciates that academic programs participate in this session every year.

A student and mentor working through a case
study on the health affects of vaping

On Monday, the UDP Travel Award recipients attended the Opening Plenary Lecture with their mentors before exploring Scientific and Poster Sessions and participating in the In Vitro Toxicology Lecture and Luncheon. In the afternoon, Virunya Bhat, Veneese Brown, Jeanine Bussiere, Erica Dashner-Titus, Frederick Ekuban, Alex Lovins, Hannah Lovins, Craig Marcus, Erin McNell, Samuel Odebamowo, Rachel Lacroix, Archit Rastogi, Monika Roy, Ranu Surolia, Hollie Swanson, and Banrida Wahlang each accompanied small groups of the UDP students to visit Scientific Sessions and posters. The program concluded with an inspirational career retrospective by Daniel Acosta titled “My Toxicology Career Journey: Lessons Learned.” At the end of the program, it was clear that the students had bonded with each other and their mentors, networked with many of the volunteers, and had their horizons widened in the wonderful world of toxicology!

This undergraduate program is successful due to the efforts of many dedicated SOT members who volunteer their time during the Annual Meeting. Among the most important volunteers are those who serve as mentors. Mentors are in contact with the students ahead of the meeting, with the students throughout the three days, and then continue to communicate with the students as they make academic and career decisions. Each group of five students had a host mentor and peer mentor. UDP host mentors this year included Marie Bourgeois, Rhiannon Hardwick, David Jett, Jennifer Rayner, Mindy Reynolds, and Sara Vliet. UDP peer mentors included Eric Brown Jr., Frederick Ekuban, Lucie Ford, Courtney McClure, Kelly Rivenbark, and Alexandra Svetlik. We also had additional peer and host mentors for the students who joined Sunday. These mentors included Veneese Brown, Jeanine Bussiere, Sarah Carratt, Christine Cho, Chris Curran, Angela Curry, Subham Dasgupta, Pamella Gann, Julia Goebel, Kymberly Gowdy, Joshua Gray, Vivek Lawana, Kristin Licko, Alex Lovins, Hannah Lovins, Jim Luyendyk, Stacia Nicholson, Archit Rastogi, Rachel Renda, Catherine Rojas, Ashley Schwartz, Jonathan Shannahan, Angela Slitt, Nicole Soucy, Krystal Taylor, Alessandro Venosa, and Eva Vitucci.

Students speak with an academic
program director during the Open Time
with Academic Program Directors
and Internship Hosts.

Clearly, there are many people involved in providing a robust meeting experience for these students! I especially want to thank the members of the CDI for their leadership, including Co-Chair Corie Ellison; members David Blake, Deacqunita Diggs, Tynisha Glover, Jessica Hartman, Amie Lund, Courtni Newsome, and Doris Zane; postdoctoral representative Lauren Walker; graduate student representative Marisol Arellano; FUTURE liaisons Jaime Mirowsky and Karen Watanabe-Sailor; NIH grant PI José Manautou; and Council contacts Chris Curran and Robyn Tanguay. A very special thanks to the SOT staff, Jenna Hartsell, who supported our Committee and this program.

This year the Undergraduate Diversity Program was featured on SOT TV, and there are lots of fun photos from the undergraduate activities in the SOT Annual Meeting photo gallery.

Students tell us that attending the Undergraduate Diversity Program and the Annual Meeting is a transformative experience, and we see some of these students return as graduate student members and later as leaders in SOT, such as one of the 2023 UDP presenters and one of the host mentors. We are very fortunate to have leading toxicologists dedicate their time to share their knowledge and professional development experiences with the students. Thank you! We look forward to many of you returning to volunteer with the 2024 program in Salt Lake City.