Matthew S. Bogdanffy, PhD, DABT, ATS, SOT Endowment Fund Board Chair, spoke with SOT Endowment Fund contributor and SOT member Adrian Nanez, PhD, Amgen Inc., about the Endowment Fund, how he has benefited from the funded programs, and why he gives back so generously.
How did you discover toxicology as profession?
Growing up in a small Texas town, I always was interested in problem solving and science, and that natural curiosity ultimately would drive my adult life. When I arrived at the University of Texas at Austin, I was able to find a home in the lab of SOT member John Richburg, PhD, investigating the toxicological mechanisms of testicular apoptosis. My next five years of undergraduate education was funded through a combination of work study, Dr. Richburg’s research funding, and other small grants. It sure beat laying brick in the South Texas heat! Little did I know that this introduction to toxicology would be the first in a long series of events that would lead to my current career!
When did SOT come into the picture?
Eventually, I had enough data to support a poster presentation at the 2000 SOT Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. Thanks to the Undergraduate Education program and additional funding from Dr. Richburg, I was able to attend my first SOT meeting with travel, hotel, and registration fees waived!
What was it like to attend your first SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo?
I was blown away by the science and all of the brilliant scientists! In fact, it was a humbling experience that taught me to “know what I know” and to be able to defend my data. This first SOT meeting also was the start of my networking experience.
In subsequent years, I was asked to participate in the Undergraduate Education Program as a mentor, where I helped new students learn about careers in toxicology. Again, my travel was funded in part through SOT. These sessions are extremely valuable to the undergrads, but also have helped me grow as a person, especially as a mentor.
Were there mentors who were especially impactful to your career?
Following Dr. Richburg, who was a very nurturing professor, I met SOT Past President Ken Ramos, MD, PhD, ATS, University of Arizona, at the 2002 Annual Meeting and ToxExpo in Nashville. Dr. Ramos was then at Texas A&M University and became my PhD mentor. After completing my PhD, I began a postdoctoral fellowship with SOT Past President Cheryl Walker, PhD, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she was located at the time. It was due to my interactions with these great professors and their mentorship that ultimately led to my first job. Their guidance not only prepared me for my career in toxicology, but also for life’s circumstances. I take every opportunity that I can to thank them, and because of these experiences, I feel a responsibility to give back to the Society.
How did you become aware of the SOT Endowment Fund?
Drs. Ramos and Walker helped guide me to fulfill my aspiration to participate in the Society’s Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI). The CDI originally had funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that we used to support the travel of undergraduate students, faculty advisors, and a few alumni of the Undergraduate Education Program to attend SOT Annual Meetings to present their research. Unfortunately, NIH funding for the CDI effort diminished over time, although we are grateful to them for the support they still supply. When I was the CDI chair, we worked with SOT Council to develop additional funding mechanisms to continue to provide travel support to promising undergraduates and faculty advisors.
SOT Council was already generously supporting undergraduate programs through the SOT Endowment Education Fund, but they helped establish the Diversity Initiatives Endowment Fund in 2009 to further support these initiatives. With more than $65,000 in net assets, the Diversity Initiatives Fund continues to grow nicely and has reached permanent restriction status, meaning it will be available in perpetuity. The Diversity Initiatives Fund will help many deserving toxicologists for many years. Imagine a time when the fund grows to a million dollars and what can be done then!
Why was it so important to create a Diversity Initiatives Fund?
I knew so many students who started in the Undergraduate Education Program, saw them continue through graduate school, and then begin careers in toxicology. I could see the impact this program was having on minority students. Since it began its support of the Undergraduate Program more than 20 years ago, the CDI has sponsored more than 1,000 aspiring toxicologists to attend the yearly meeting and discover careers in toxicology. It is my hope that by growing the Diversity Initiatives Fund, we will sustain the entire program, even in difficult funding climates.
It looks like SOT and the Endowment Funds have had an impact in your life.
For me, the role of the SOT and the Endowment Fund has come full circle. Without my first opportunity to attend the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, which was funded by SOT, I may not have ended up with such a fantastic career in toxicology. Now, I am able to give back in terms of time and money.
Plus, my employer matches my monetary contributions, and SOT Council currently is matching those contributions, too, so for every dollar I give, the Endowment Fund receives four dollars. Pretty good deal!
By staying involved with the CDI programs and by mentoring, I can see my investments in SOT in action and how the recipients of the philanthropy benefit. It’s a great feeling!