I recently visited with undergraduate students in the Department of Sciences and Mathematics at the Mississippi University for Women (MUW, or just “The W”) for a ToxScholar visit. The W was the first public college for women in the United States, chartered in 1884, and has been co-ed for over 30 years. The W offers associate, baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral degrees and was recognized in the US News and World Report (2017) as one of the top 20 public Southern regional universities.
Dr. Kaplan, in front second from right, met with a number of students at Mississippi University for Women.
The W is located in Columbus, Mississippi, only 25 miles east of Starkville, home to my institution, Mississippi State University. I became more familiar with The W and the Department of Sciences and Mathematics because I mentored a summer undergraduate student from The W in the summer of 2016. The student came to my laboratory through the Mississippi IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) summer scholars program, which places undergraduates in summer internships at research-intensive universities in Mississippi. Since my summer intern also had conducted a project with one of the faculty at The W during the school year, I suggested that she arrange a meeting between her mentor and me so she could present both her research projects to us. During this time, I inquired if there would be any interest in introducing toxicology to the students in their department so we arranged a visit for a seminar and a meeting with students.
My visit was scheduled during their regular seminar time, which was attended by (mostly) upper class Chemistry and Biology majors. I was thrilled to see about 40 students in attendance. I introduced toxicology, talked about major toxicological concepts, summarized career options for toxicologists, and provided information about toxicology graduate programs. After the seminar, we met for pizza and many students asked specific questions about classes, graduate programs, summer internship opportunities, and getting involved with SOT as undergraduate affiliates. During the visit, I passed out surveys so I could get feedback on the usefulness of the visit. While over 90% of the students had heard of toxicology, 74% indicated they had a better understanding of toxicology after the visit. About 38% of the students stated they were more interested in toxicology having learned more about it, and 25% of the students were interested in learning more about education and training in toxicology. Many of the students provided contact information so they could receive information about affiliate membership, attendance at the regional or annual meetings, travel awards, and summer internship possibilities.
My experience as a ToxScholar was outstanding, but likely would not have happened without my inquiry. While initiating contacts with predominantly undergraduate institutions without formal toxicology programs can be a major roadblock in establishing ToxScholar visits, my experience shows that members can take advantage of seemingly unrelated situations to make the first contact. I also suggested that our graduate students and postdoctoral researchers could provide seminars to the students at The W in the future. This will maintain the relationship, provide fresh information about various toxicology research programs, allow the undergraduate students to interact with graduate students, and provide additional experience for delivering oral presentations for our trainees. I am hopeful for a long and beneficial collaboration between toxicologists at Mississippi State University and the Department of Sciences and Mathematics at The W. Let’s keep talking about toxicology!
You, too, can request ToxScholar funding. More information is found on the ToxScholar webpage as well as the link to the application. Applications are now being received at any time until funding for the year is depleted.