Going Back to Give Back


By Kimberly Hodge-Bell posted 01-17-2014 07:28


Kimberly Hodge-Bell visited her alma mater, Virginia Union University, in October and, through a grant from SOT’s Diversity ToxScholar Program, was able to connect with over 90 students to share her experiences and enthusiasm for the science of toxicology. The program offers up to $500 for members to visit institutions and establish mentoring relationships with faculty and students to encourage careers in toxicology.

Going Back to Give Back
By Kimberly Hodge-Bell, PhD, DABT

Wow, it was over 20 years ago that I started on my journey to becoming a Toxicologist. Ever since I was a little girl, whenever I was asked “what do you want to be when you grow up,” my immediate response was “I am going to be a doctor.” As a littler girl, I did not realize that there were many roads to becoming a “doctor” and a medical doctor was only one of several types of doctors. 

My aspirations of becoming a doctor continued as I enrolled in Virginia Union University (Richmond, VA). I was adamant about pursing a career in medicine. After my freshman year, I began to question what else could I do with a biology degree. Maybe I could teach or become a laboratory assistant or even work as a regulatory scientist with the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) or US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA). With a glazed look on my face, I went to my professor’s office and asked if I didn’t go to medical school then what can I do with “this degree.” His response was priceless; “What do YOU want to do with it? There are so many options but the choice is yours.” That very conversation changed the trajectory of my career path and motivated me to look into other career options. And the rest is history!

In October 2013, the Society of Toxicology Domestic ToxScholar Outreach Program afforded me the opportunity to visit the very place where I started my scientific journey, Virginia Union University. I decided that is was time to go back and give back those words of encouragement, as well as challenge the undergraduate students at my alma mater to think outside of the box when it comes to their careers. 

 As I entered the building and was walking through the hallways, I could hear VUU‘s alma mater song written by Dr. William Yancey (1933).

Union, we’ll e’er revere the cause for which you stand.

Union! Majestic light, send rays throughout the land;

Thy hallowed grounds and dear old walls,

May they forever be,

Dear Union we still love thee!

I looked at my host, smiled, and said “Dear Union we still love thee.” Although as an undergraduate, that was not my favorite song (smile), I now realize that my passion to succeed and my excitement for mentoring/coaching started on the hallowed grounds and within in the dear old walls of Virginia Union. 

During my visit to Virginia Union, I had the opportunity to share my journey to becoming a toxicologist with biology and chemistry students in a classroom setting and with individual meetings. Talking with the students helped them realize that toxicology is a part of our everyday life.  Surprisingly, many students were introduced to toxicology for the first time. The students were intrigued to learn about the core principles of toxicology, the available training programs (e.g., internships), and toxicology career opportunities that could help to expand their academic and professional scientific experience. My last presentation of the day was to a senior biology class. We talked extensively about what is next after graduation. This session really touched home for me because I remember sitting in that same seat 20 years ago, with the same questions and same fears about my career path. After talking with the senior class, my hope is that I influenced the students to consider the opportunities in the field of toxicology and inspired them that a career in toxicology is exciting yet enjoyable. It is always a pleasure to go back to my alma mater and to give back.

Special Thanks to Anthony Madu, Hosting Professor at Virginia Union University, the Society of Toxicology’s Domestic ToxScholar Outreach Grant Program, and the Committee on Diversity Initiative.  

Through the contributions of volunteers like Dr. Hodge-Bell, the Committee on Diversity Initiatives is hoping to strengthen the role of the ToxScholar Program as a tool to reach out to minority undergraduate students to inform them about opportunities in toxicology and about the resources offered by SOT. Visits to minority institutions are funded through the Committee on Diversity Initiatives and trips to other undergraduate institutions are funded through the Education Committee. The SOT website has information on how you can “Go Back to Give Back” through the SOT ToxScholar Program.