Volunteers Make the Undergraduate Diversity Program Possible—Thank You!

By Kymberly Gowdy posted 05-05-2022 16:14

This year’s Tox Squad!

This was a special year for the Undergraduate Diversity Program at the SOT 61st Annual Meeting and ToxExpo in San Diego, California. We celebrated our first in-person meeting in two years by hosting 30 undergraduate students and three advisors for our annual Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP). The Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) and many other SOT members carry out this three-day program. This program emphasizes making connections with the students and advisors and opening their eyes to the principles of toxicology, how toxicology influences the world around them, and the many careers available within the field. The UDP has been held for 33 years, 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 assisted this year.

The UDP started on Saturday, March 26, 2022, where CDI led several activities to acquaint the participating students with the principles of toxicology. Dr. Alexandra Noel provided an introduction to toxicology presentation. Then the participants joined UDP alumni and others who attended the CDI Reunion, which is always a wonderful time to meet the students and greet friends.

On Sunday, Dr. Myrtle Davis, 2021–2022 SOT President, welcomed undergraduates to the 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. Speakers Drs. James Luyendyk, Jamie DeWitt, Patricia Silveyra, and Lois Lehman-McKeeman presented research in several subdisciplines of toxicology. Then, Dr. Lauren Aleksunes led a case study called “It’s in Your DNA” on how genetics influence drug effectiveness and toxicity. Following a morning of toxicology didactics, 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 Drs. Jamie DeWitt, Andrij Holian, James Luyendyk, Thu Annelise Nguyen, and Craig Marcus. Veneese Brown, Esther Omaiye, Krystal Taylor, Lisa Tran, and Lauren Walker provided graduate student perspectives about applying to and being successful in graduate school. Career Roundtable Breakout discussants included Drs. Antonio Baines, Joanne Birkebak, Vinicius Carreira, Brian Chorley, Dori Germolec, Rhiannon Hardwick, Lindsay Holden, Colleen McLoughlin, Thu Annelise Nguyen, Cynthia Rider, Jonathan Shannahan, Courtney Sulentic, Fred Tyson, Alessandro Venosa, and René Viñas, who provided perspectives on career opportunities in toxicology and contrasted employment in industry, academia, and government. Following these exciting 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 about 30 academic programs to learn about those programs and summer internship opportunities. We appreciate that academic programs participate in this session every year.

UDP participants
at the Welcome Event

UEP participants and mentors working
on a toxicology case study

Academic Program Director
and Internship Sponsor Session

These Sunday activities involved 83 additional undergraduates who registered for the Annual Meeting, including the 13 SOT Undergraduate Research Award recipients and 22 students who are part of the ToxMSDT program. It was so exciting to see this many undergraduates interested in pursuing toxicology and STEM careers.

On Monday, Chinedu Ahuchaogu, Saeed Alqahtani, Olushola Awoyemi, Amy Clippinger, Vivek Lawana, Hannah Hartzler Lovins, Craig Marcus, Courtney McClure, Sumira Phatak, Lauren Poole, Jennifer Rayner, Shakil Saghir, Rachel Speer, Hollie Swanson, Michael Yaeger, and Dorothy You each accompanied groups of UDP students to visit Scientific Sessions and posters. Students also attended the Plenary Lecture and the In Vitro Toxicology Lecture and Luncheon. The program ended with an inspirational career retrospective by Dr. José Manautou entitled, “Mentoring and Inspiring the Next Generation of Toxicologists: A Commitment at a Global Scale.” It was clear that by the end of these three days, the students had bonded with each other, networked with many of the volunteers, and had their eyes opened to the wonderful world of toxicology!

UDP participants enjoying the CDI Reunion

This undergraduate program is very successful, thanks to the efforts of so 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 with the students throughout the three days and then continue to keep in touch with the students as they make career decisions. Each group of about five students had a host mentor and a peer mentor. UDP host mentors this year included Drs. Olushola Awoyemi, Marie Bourgeois, Jessica Hartman, Vivek Lawana, Gilandra Russell, Jonathan Shannahan, and Alessandro Venosa. UDP peer mentors included Chinedu Ahuchaogu, Sarah Carratt, Midori Flores, Suzanne Martos, Courtney McClure, Lauren Poole, and Kelly Rivenbark. We also had additional peer and host mentors for groups during Sunday activities. These mentors included Saeed Alqahtani, Christopher Clark, Amy Clippinger, Christine Curran, Frederick Ekuban, Joshua Gray, Dongsuk Kim, Kristin Licko, Hannah Hartzler Lovins, Cristina Maldonado, Craig Marcus, Alexandra Noel, Toufan Parman, Sumira Phatak, Shakil Saghir, Talia Seymore, Alexandra Svetlik, Hollie Swanson, Krystal Taylor, and Laura Van Winkle.

Clearly, many people are involved in providing a great meeting experience for these students! I especially want to thank the members of the CDI for their leadership, including Co-Chair Kari Sant; members David Blake, Corie Ellison, Enrique Fuentes-Mattei, Tynisha Glover, Toni Hayes, Courtni Newsome, and Doris Zane; postdoctoral representative Subham Dasgupta; graduate representative Keith Rogers; FUTURE liaison Emily Ford; NIH grant PI José Manautou; and Council contacts Christine Curran and Robyn Tanguay. A very special thanks to the SOT staff who supported our Committee and this program, Betty Eidemiller and Jenna Hartsell.

Students tell us that attending the Undergraduate Program and the Annual Meeting is an incredible experience, and we see some of these students back as Graduate Student members and later as leaders in SOT. We are very fortunate to have leading toxicologists dedicate time to share their knowledge and professional development experiences. Thank you! We know that many of you will be back next year to volunteer with the 2023 program.