Volunteers Make the Undergraduate Diversity Program Possible—Thank You!


By Irene Abraham posted 05-16-2019 12:36


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This was a special year for the Undergraduate Diversity Program at the SOT 58th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo in Baltimore, Maryland. We celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the program, which has been an important SOT project to increase diversity in toxicology. The foresight of SOT leaders in the late 1980s and through today; the continuing oversight and actions of the Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI); and the contributions of the many members who carry out the program, make connections with the students, and build the success of the program are very much appreciated. We acknowledge those who assisted this year. 

Leigh Ann Burns Naas, 2018–2019 SOT President, welcomed undergraduates to the three-day program 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. Thirty-seven outstanding undergraduates and three advisors were in attendance. Sunday activities involved about 70 additional undergraduates who registered for the Annual Meeting, including the 17 2019 Pfizer SOT Undergraduate Student Travel Award recipients and 10 students who attended with support from the Undergraduate Consortium Task Force.

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 peer mentor. Jim Luyendyk and Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez led the icebreaker that started the program, and the mentors took it from there. Host mentors this year included Virunya Bhat, Marie Bourgeois, Chris Curran, Angela Curry, Tirupapuliyur Damodaran, Michelle Hernandez, Kembra Howdeshell, Marquea King, Jalissa Nguyen, Alexandra Noel, Daniella Pizzurro, Logeswari Ponnusamy, Jennifer Rayner, Mindy Reynolds, Brandy W. Riffle, Kari Sant, Rosie Sneed, Pamella Tijerina, and Saurabh Vispute.

The graduate student peer mentors were Melanie Abongwa, Olushola Awoyemi, Jazmyne Barney, Krisa Camargo, Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez, Marie M. Hargrove, Caroline Moore, Nnanyelugo Odezulu, Esther Omaiye, Ashley Peppriell, Sumira Phatak, Courtney Roper, Rosemarie de la Rosa, Brittany Szafran, Nancy Urbano, Eva Vitucci, and Phillip Wages.

The CDI Reunion is always a time to meet the students and greet friends. In addition, this year Sharon Milgram, my mentor, inspired the audience to be thoughtful about personal goals and motivated to articulate them.

2019 UDP (2).pngSpeakers Lauren Aleksunes, Myrtle Davis, Marquea King, and Timothy Nurkiewicz provided introductions to toxicology and research in several subdisciplines. Maureen Gwinn and Antony Williams led an exploration of the US Environmental Protection Agency CompTox Chemicals Dashboard, and Martin Philbert inspired participants through a reflection on his career path. Students also attended the Plenary Lecture, the In Vitro Toxicology Lecture and Luncheon, and the “Models and Strategies for Building Diversity and Inclusion in Toxicology” Education-Career Development Session, which was organized by Chris Curran in conjunction with the CDI anniversary.

Graduate Program Breakout facilitators Krisa Camargo, Catheryne Chiang, Rosemarie de la Rosa, Jim Luyendyk, Craig Marcus, Courtney Sulentic, Eva Vitucci, and Judith Zelikoff provided graduate student and academic program perspectives about applying to and being successful in graduate school. José Manautou led the breakout with faculty to explore ways to increase successful applications to graduate school.

Career Roundtable Breakout discussants Njwen Anyangwe, Antonio Baines, Angela Curry, Darryl Hood, Shaun McCullough, Eric McDuffie, Colleen McLoughlin, Kristini Miles, Merrie Mosedale, Alexandra Noël, Ofelia Olivero, and Jennifer Rayner provided perspectives on career opportunities in toxicology and contrasted employment in industry, academia, and government.

On Monday afternoon, Melanie Abongwa, Dami Adebambo, Tarana Arman, Olushola Awoyemi, Marie Bourgeois, Sam Caito, Ana Paula Ferragut Cardoso, Chris Curran, Kembra Howdeshell, David Jett, Lauren Lewis, Nnanyelugo Odezulu, Esther Omaiye, Sumira Phatak, Courtney Roper, Kari Sant, Jennifer Shing, Hollie Swanson, Erica Dashner-Titus, Saurabh Vispute, Li Yang, and Xiaozhong Yu each accompanied a few Undergraduate Program students to visit Scientific Sessions and posters.

2019 UDP (1).pngDuring the open session with academic program directors and internship sponsors, the undergraduates met 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.

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 Jim Luyendyk; members Pedro Del Valle, Frederic Moulin, Monicah Otieno, Ericka Reid, Jason Richardson, Christopher Stewart, and Hong Wang; postdoctoral representative Samantha J. Snow; graduate representative Catheryne Chiang; NIH grant PI José Manautou; and Council contacts Anne Chappelle and Barbara Kaplan.

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 2020 program.

Irene Abraham, PhD, DABT, ERT
2018–2019 Committee on Diversity Initiatives Chair