Eye on CDI

The Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) is pleased to spotlight the following outstanding scientists who were selected to attend the Undergraduate Diversity Program at one of the past SOT Annual Meetings. Now in the workplace after completing their formal training, they share more about their path to a career in science and the impact of their experiences with SOT.

For other reflections on the impact and history of the program, see blogs written by Jennifer Rayner and Claude McGowan.
Other participants in the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program are encouraged to touch base with SOT Headquarters to share your career path.

Isola Brown

Featured in the 2021 Summer Communiqué

Isola Brown

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2010

Current Position: Associate Program Director, MS Program in Physiology, University of Michigan

2012 : BA, Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Pennsylvania
2017 : PhD, Pharmacology/Toxicology and Environmental Toxicology, Michigan State University
2017–2019 : Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Virginia

Isola’s interest in a career in toxicology began in an unsuspecting place: her living room couch. Years of Friday night marathons of CSI (Las Vegas and Miami editions, of course!) and a love for chemistry sparked an interest in a career in forensic toxicology. In pursuit of this goal, Isola attended the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), where she attained a bachelor of arts in chemistry and biochemistry. While at Penn, she conducted summer research in the labs of Dr. Gregory Weiss and Dr. Amy Palmer at the University of California Irvine and the University of Colorado Boulder, respectively. Additionally, during her junior and senior year at Penn, Isola worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Sachais in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. These undergraduate research experiences were instrumental in developing Isola’s passion for academic research, and Drs. Weiss, Palmer, and Sachais provided key mentorship and support for her transition to graduate school.

Isola attended the 2010 SOT Annual Meeting as part of the Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP). This was Isola’s first-ever conference, and attending a national meeting of this caliber at such an early time in her academic career was a pivotal moment in her professional development. She gained an early appreciation for science communication, networking, and mentoring as key parts in developing a fulfilling academic career.

In 2012, Isola matriculated into the Pharmacology and Toxicology PhD program at Michigan State University (MSU). At MSU, she was fortunate to be in a department that housed leaders in various fields of toxicology, including past and present SOT leadership. Although her research interest changed from toxicology to neuroscience during graduate school, the strong and supportive training environment provided by the Pharm/Tox Department ensured the successful defense of Isola’s dissertation titled “Enteric Glial Cell Regulation of Oxidative Stress and Immune Homeostasis during Gastrointestinal Inflammation” in 2017 from the laboratory of Dr. Brian Gulbransen.

After completing a PhD, Isola pursued postdoctoral training as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center (CVRC) at the University of Virginia, working in the laboratory of Dr. Brant Isakson. There, she spent two years studying the role of intravascular endothelial cells in viral infections, continuing her broad research interests developed in graduate school in intercellular signaling in disease. Her postdoctoral work was supported by funding from the CVRC Training Grant and a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.

One of Isola’s key takeaways from the UDP was the importance of strong and supporting mentorship and advising. Following the model provided to her by the UDP host and peer mentors made mentoring future scientists a priority in her academic training and career. As a female underrepresented minority scientist, this mentorship is particularly targeted to other women and minorities in science (although not exclusively). During graduate school, she was an active member of the MSU chapter of the Graduate Women in Science, an organization through which she mentored middle and high school girls and undergraduate women with a passion for science. Isola also became a graduate student mentor for the MSU Summer Opportunities Research Program, where she provided one-on-one feedback and guidance to underrepresented undergraduate students engaged in summer research at MSU. Isola was a steering committee member for the MSU Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a National Science Foundation (NSF)–funded program supporting the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in PhD programs at MSU. In those roles, she played an active role in ensuring gender and racial diversity within academia and gained a novel appreciation for academic mentoring.

This appreciation, and other experiences, led Isola to her current role as the Associate Program Director of the MS Program in Physiology at the University of Michigan. Since October 2019, she taught courses in physiology and neuroscience and mentored and advised program students as they prepared applications for health profession programs (such as medicine or dentistry) or other future employment. Her work in the MS Program directly aligns with her long-term career passions in teaching, student mentoring and advising, and student success outcomes.

Pamella Tijerina

Featured in the 2018 Fall Communiqué

Pamella Tijerina

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2010

Current Position: Toxicologist, Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC

2011 : BS, Biology, University of Texas, San Antonio
2016 : PhD, Environmental Health Sciences, Toxicology, New York University

As with many scientists, Dr. Tijerina’s journey began at an early age with telescopes and science fair projects. With the support of her parents, Dr. Tijerina attended a science magnet school and eventually pursued a bachelor’s degree in Biology. It wasn’t until late in her undergraduate career at University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) that Dr. Tijerina began laboratory research under the mentorship of Drs. Rama Ratnam and Gail Taylor.

While attending a SACNAS conference Dr. Tijerina met Dr. Bill Atchison, who recommended the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) undergraduate program. In 2010 Dr. Tijerina attended the CDI undergraduate program where she was introduced to the field of toxicology. The concepts of novel research, medical applications, and protecting public health were all appealing reasons to pursue a career in toxicology.

After graduating from the UTSA in 2011, Dr. Tijerina participated in a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in the laboratory of Dr. José Lemos. During this time Dr. Tijerina took a Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology course offered by Dr. Richard K. Miller where she became increasingly intrigued by perinatal toxicology. In 2012, Dr. Tijerina began her graduate education at New York University under the direction of Dr. Judith Zelikoff, focusing on the repercussions of perinatal exposures.

Throughout graduate school, Dr. Tijerina remained involved in SOT by presenting posters and attending mentoring sessions. She served as the graduate student representative for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter and the Hispanic Organization of Toxicologists special interest group. Over the years she received several student awards, including the Perry J. Gehring Diversity Student Travel Award, the Inhalation and Respiratory Specialty Section Mary Amdur Award, the Hispanic Organization of Toxicologists Special Interest Group Award (Sponsored by Celanese), and the Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues (i.e., ELFSI) Graduate Student Award. The SOT Annual Meeting served a vital role in introducing various career paths and providing a vast network of mentors and colleagues.

Upon graduation, Dr. Tijerina returned to Texas to be closer to family (and further from snow). As a toxicologist with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC., Dr. Tijerina has remained engaged in academia by offering career presentations and internships to students from local universities, including participating in the ToxScholar program. An average day as an emergency response toxicologist varies from working at a nuclear waste site to engaging members of the community regarding their water supply. Dr. Tijerina is continuously fascinated by the wide-breadth of knowledge demonstrated by her team in unordinary situations. When she is not out in the field, Dr. Tijerina spends her time conducting occupational exposure assessments and product safety evaluations.

Dr. Tijerina’s experiences as a toxicologist have only amplified her initial interest sparked during the CDI undergraduate program. She hopes to continue her involvement with the CDI undergraduate program and has most recently used the SOT meeting as a recruitment arena for qualified candidates.

Jalissa L. (Wynder) Nguyen

Featured in the 2018 Summer Communiqué

Jalissa L. (Wynder) Nguyen

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2011

Current Position: Toxicologist, State of Texas

2013 : BS, Chemistry, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge
2018 : PhD, Molecular and Environmental Toxicology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jalissa decided to pursue a career as a scientist because of her early childhood experiences near a fenceline community and various programs that piqued her interest in scientific research. Her scientific journey began at Baton Rouge Magnet High School (BRMHS) when she was accepted into the Math and Science TRIO program at Southern University and A&M College (SUBR). This six-week program during the summer of her junior and senior years of high school inspired her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. During her freshman year, an encounter with Dr. Wesley Gray and Dr. Ella Kelley served as her introduction to scientific research and the Louis Stokes-Louisiana Alliance for Minority Participation (LS-LAMP) Program. Through this program, she attended her first scientific conference, the Society of Toxicology (SOT) annual meeting, in Salt Lake City, Utah. This conference allowed Jalissa to see the diverse nature of scientific research and inspired her to continue to work in Dr. Gray’s laboratory so that she could share her work with others.

In 2010, Jalissa was selected as the First-place winner of “The Undergraduate Student Poster Presentation” at the South Central Regional SOT Meeting and the following year Jalissa was selected for SOT’s 2011 Undergraduate Diversity Program. These experiences served as Jalissa’s introduction to the field of toxicology and increased her interested in scientific research and graduate school. In 2011, Jalissa was awarded her first off-campus summer research experience through the Research Experiences for Undergrads (REU) at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in the Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) department. This summer research experience helped her to acquire a variety of new skills in biochemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology in the laboratory of Dr. Brad Binder. During the summer of 2012, Jalissa was selected a United Negro College Fund (UNCF)/MERCK Fellow. This fellowship offered Jalissa the opportunity to mentored by MERCK scientists Dr. Anthony Paiva and Qian Si, receive UNCF/MERCK fellowship support for her undergraduate studies, and develop networking relationships with other minority scientists.

Taken together these research experiences influenced Jalissa’s decision to pursue graduate studies in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology (MET) graduate program at the University of Wisconsin Madison. The goal of her dissertation was to elucidate the role of environmental estrogens in rodent urinary tract dysfunction; she was in the laboratory of Dr. William Ricke. While at the University of Wisconsin Madison she mentored undergraduates, first-year graduate students, and one professional student.

In addition to her on campus leadership experiences, she served as SOT Food Safety Specialty Section graduate student representative, secretary for the Professional Development Subcommittee of SOT's Graduate Student Leadership Committee, and the graduate student representative for the Continuing Education Committee. In 2017, Jalissa was selected as the 2017 summer fellow for the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) North America where she evaluated the utility of alternative toxicity testing methods for food relevant chemicals under the mentorship of Dr. Mansi Krishan. This research experience helped Jalissa understand the broader impact of scientific research away from the lab bench and the value of applied toxicological studies. In 2018, Jalissa completed her PhD and accepted a position as a toxicologist for the State of Texas. In her current position she workers with a team of health assessors, epidemiologists, and information specialists to conduct toxicological investigations at hazardous waste sites. In this role, she hopes to be the “voice” for individuals who come from small neighborhoods like hers, local, and abroad.

Shaneka Lawson

Featured in the 2015 Spring Communiqué

Shaneka Lawson

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2001

Current Position: USDA Research Plant Physiologist & Adjunct Assistant Professor at Purdue University

2005 : BS, Biology, Morgan State University
2006 : MS, Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense, Johns Hopkins University
2011 : PhD, Molecular Tree Physiology-Genetics, Purdue University

Those who knew Shaneka Lawson at Morgan State University (MSU) had no doubt that she would achieve a successful career in science. Shaneka worked to learn molecular biology methods and techniques working with Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) in the laboratory of Dr. Casonya Johnson (now at Georgia State University).

In 2001, Shaneka received an undergraduate travel award to attend the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Annual Meeting with Dr. Dwayne Hill, a professor at MSU and a SOT member. Shaneka was most fascinated with the way chemicals and toxins worked within the body. After graduating with highest honors from MSU with a BS in Biology and minors in Chemistry, English, and Spanish, Shaneka obtained laboratory manager positions at Johns Hopkins University in human genetics and neuroscience to gain both larger skillset and experience with additional model systems.

Inspired by the effects of chemicals and mutagens on those model systems, Shaneka received a Master’s in Biotechnology with a concentration in Biodefense from Johns Hopkins University,

Shaneka achieved her PhD in Molecular Tree Physiology and Genetics at Purdue University in 2011, learning how plants were able to create and produce chemicals and how they could be genetically modified. She genetically engineer several plant species to use less water, tolerate greater amounts of salt, and to overproduce wax by overexpressing a single gene for each result.

Shaneka accepted a position with the USDA Forest Service (USDA-FS) to work on Acacia koa (koa) in Hawai’i. Koa is a tree species endemic to the all islands within the Hawaiian archipelago whose numbers are severely declining because of disease, invasive pests, and climate change. Shaneka’s research uses NextGeneration technologies to uncover genes and proteins involved in climate, pest, and altitude adaptation.

Shaneka works diligently with diversity groups on the Purdue University and with the American Society for Plant Biology Minority Affairs Committee to support and encourage other minorities working in plant biology. She is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University and the Special Emphasis Program Manager for African-American programs at the USDA-FS Northern Research Station.

Shaneka has returned to MSU to speak with students about career options and the value of attending conferences. She continues to support the efforts of young minority scientists in a variety of fields with which she is experienced and often serves as a science fair and research competition judge on the local and national scale.

Ebany J. Martinez-Finley

Featured in the 2011 Fall Issue Communiqué

Ebany J. Martinez-Finley

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2005

Current Position: Research Scientist, MIND Research Network

2005 : BS, Biology, BS, Spanish, University of New Mexico
2010 : PhD, Biomedical Sciences with concentrations in Neurosciences/Toxicology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Ebany’s road to toxicology began in college at the University of New Mexico. As she pursued her biology degree she looked for a means to conduct research in any form. Her first job was working on a research study on the cervical health histories of Hispanic women at the Epidemiology and Cancer Control Center under the supervision of Dr. Jan Gaylord-Vanslyke. She then did a summer fellowship at the NM Department of Health where, through attendance at conventions concerning pertinent public health issues, her eyes were opened to the need for basic research to be translational and have a basis in the needs of the community. At this point she realized that she belonged in the laboratory, so she found a position in a Neurosciences laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Savage. In his laboratory, Ebany worked on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and it was here that she found her niche. Ebany really enjoyed studying the brain, finding it to be the most interesting of all the organs. It was during the last semester of her undergraduate education that she was introduced to Toxicology and SOT. Dr. Craig Marcus, then a professor at UNM, gave a presentation about SOT and invited the class to apply for the meeting. Ebany applied, was invited to attend and the rest is history. After learning a great deal about toxicology at the meeting, Ebany’s interests were piqued and she enrolled in graduate school, pursuing a program in toxicology.

During Ebany’s graduate career she was co-mentored by Drs. Andrea Allan and Jim Liu. Her dissertation examined the effect of moderate exposure to arsenic (As) during the perinatal period on learning and memory behavior in adolescence. The project resulted in three first-authored publications, the first reported learning and memory deficits and elevated stress levels produced by exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations of As (50ppb) (Martinez, 2008). The second reported the impact of As-exposure on other stress axis parameters known to mediate memory behavior (Martinez-Finley, 2009) and the third reported the dramatic downstream effect of the altered stress axis (Martinez-Finley, 2011). Ebany was supported by a fellowship from Pfizer and an F31 NRSA and was the recipient of four grants funded by the NM legislature. During this period, Ebany received several awards for travel and oral presentations of her work and she served as a teaching assistant for pharmacy and medical students and taught an undergraduate health sciences lab. While Ebany had experienced many facets of research by this point she had yet to explore toxicology from the industry perspective so she took an internship at Pfizer under the direction of Dr. Tiffini Brabham. Her project assessed ways to characterize drug-induced neuropathy through behavioral analysis.

After graduation, Ebany moved to Nashville to start postdoctoral work in the lab of Dr. Michael Aschner at Vanderbilt. Her research is focused on methylmercury toxicity and neurodegeneration. She currently serves as the Junior Co-chair for the Postdoctoral Association at Vanderbilt and as the Secretary for the Postdoctoral Assembly of SOT.

Kristini Miles

Featured in the 2010 Summer/Fall Issue Communiqué

Kristini Miles

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 1999

Current Position: Toxicologist II, Global Product Safety, Kimberly-Clark Corporation

2001 : BS, Chemistry (minor in Biology), Paine College
2005 : PhD, Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University

Kristini has always enjoyed learning about science and understanding how living systems function in nature. During high school, she excelled in chemistry and decided she would pursue a career in the health sciences. As an undergraduate chemistry major at Paine College, Kristini understood the value of participating in summer research programs in order to identify which scientific career path she would pursue. Although she struggled with identifying a field for her graduate studies, Kristini knew she wanted to be involved in an area that incorporated biology and analytical chemistry. Her undergraduate advisor, Linda James, encouraged her to apply for the SOT CDI undergraduate program. She was selected to attend the 1999 Annual Meeting and it was there where she was introduced to the field of Toxicology. Immediately she was fascinated about the opportunities available and began researching graduate school programs when she returned home. Kristini identified Virginia Commonwealth University (formerly known as the Medical College of Virginia) as her school of choice because of the diversity of faculty research interests. She graduated as valedictorian of her class in 2001 and was awarded the Stephen J. Wright Graduate Fellowship upon her matriculation.

Kristini knew she wanted to gain a better understanding of toxic mechanisms of action and how to utilize in vitro techniques in correlating clinical outcomes in vivo. During her laboratory rotations in the department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, she identified her advisor, Dr. Joseph Ritter. His laboratory’s research was focused on a major family of phase II enzymes (UDP-glucuronosyltrasferases (UGTs) and their respective detoxification pathway. While under his guidance, Kristini worked on her dissertation research that focused on understanding the involvement of UGTs in the prevention of gastrointestinal toxicity associated with an immunosuppressant, mycophenolic acid (MPA). Her research was exciting, challenging and essential in developing her career path going forward. She aspired to incorporate her educational training into a broader, corporate environment and become involved in the area of risk assessment.

In 2006, Kristini accepted a position with Kraft Foods and worked in the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs division, where she supported food safety on a global basis. Under the guidance of Dr. Daniel Skrypec, she conducted safety assessments for food ingredients and novel technologies. This experience allowed her to obtain a position with Kimberly-Clark Corporation in 2008 where she is currently employed. In her current role, Kristini supports innovative product development and Kimberly-Clark’s global businesses by evaluating the safety of surface sanitizers, disinfectants and non-woven consumer products.

Kristini continues to play an active role in the CDI program by volunteering as a host mentor. In addition, she is the 2010–2011 Secretary/Treasurer of the Toxicologists of African Origin (TAO) Special Interest Group. She believes in the mission of CDI’s program and encourages her colleagues and peers to become involved in ensuring the long-term success of this program.

Donald Kirkpatrick

Featured in the 2010 Spring Communiqué

Donald Kirkpatrick

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 1997

Current Position: Scientist, Department of Protein Chemistry, Genentech

1998 : BS, Biochemistry, University of Oklahoma
2003 : PhD, University of Arizona
2003–2007 : Postdoctoral Fellowship, Harvard University

In March 1997, I was an undergraduate in Biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma when I received an invitation to attend the Undergraduate Education Program at the Society of Toxicology. This program played a formative role in my career development, as I had never considered pursuing a PhD and was headed toward a career away from laboratory based research. The CDI program opened my eyes to the opportunities that existed in research science and connected me with the first of several mentors who have guided me along that path. For the next two summers at Searle and Monsanto, I worked as an intern in the lab with Julio Davila and his colleagues to study drug metabolism during an exciting period when the company’s new COX2-inhibitor, celecoxib, was about to reach the market. From the very beginning, Drs. Davila and Peter Smith encouraged me to pursue a career in research, even sponsoring my return to the 1998 SOT meeting.

Because I was interested in understanding how drug toxicity and environmental chemicals damaged cells and tissues, I chose to pursue a PhD degree in the area of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Arizona. During my graduate studies I continued my involvement in the SOT Undergraduate Program. Professor Jay Gandolfi was my research mentor and my dissertation focused on characterizing the effects of low level arsenic insults on the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. The final part of this work was to develop cutting edge mass spectrometry tools, a decision which has dramatically altered my career path. After receiving my PhD in 2003, I moved to Harvard Medical School for a postdoctoral fellowship in Professor Steven Gygi’s lab. During this exciting period, the ubiquitin and mass spectrometry fields began to explode scientifically. I worked to develop quantitative tools for studying differences between normal and diseases cells and received the opportunity to speak at a number of international scientific meetings.

With this experience I was able to secure a position as Scientist in the Department of Protein Chemistry at Genentech in 2007. My group employs mass spectrometry to help understand the mechanisms of action for therapeutic agents and identify new drug targets. We believe that disruption of ubiquitin system is an underlying cause of diseases as diverse as cancer, neurodegeneration, and immune dysfunction and continue to investigate this pathway in contributing to Genentech’s goal of serving patients with unmet medical needs.

Adrian Nanez

Featured in the 2010 Spring Communiqué

Adrian Nanez

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2000

Current Position: Scientist, Discovery Toxicology, Amgen, Inc.

2002 : BS, Microbiology, University of Texas at Austin
2007 : PhD, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, University of Louisville
2007–2008 : Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Texas MD Anderson

Growing up in rural South Texas, I had always had an affinity for problem solving and a general interest in science. As is the case with many undergraduates entering college, I had yet to decide “what I wanted to be when I grow up.” As luck would have it, I stumbled into a work study job in the laboratory of Dr. John Richburg at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. My early studies centered on elucidating the molecular mechanisms that govern testicular germ cell apoptosis. I applied to the 2000 Undergraduate Education Program (UEP) in Philadelphia, hosted by the CDI, to secure travel funds with which to present my undergraduate research and further my understanding of careers in Toxicology. As it turned out the connections made during that brief two day introduction to Toxicology helped nurture my career as a toxicologist.

I continued to participate as a UEP peer mentor from 2001–2008 and met my graduate mentor, Dr. Kenneth Ramos, during the recruiting session at the 2001 SOT in San Francisco, CA. My graduate work focused on determining the molecular mechanism by which the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor and Wilms’ Tumor transcription factor govern ontogenesis as regulated by somatic and environmental factors in utero. I continued my molecular toxicology training in the laboratory of Dr. Cheryl Walker as a postdoc at the University of Texas MD Anderson examining the involvement of the mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) signaling cascade in carcinogenesis and autophagy.

My diverse research experience prepared me for my current position as a Scientist in the Discovery Toxicology group at Amgen, Inc. Our group coordinates the integration of proactive safety assessments and works with internal and external groups to address potential safety concerns.

In 2008, I was nominated CDI Chair thus allowing me to give back to the program that changed my life setting me on my path as a toxicologist. Through the leadership of those before me and those to come, the CDI will continue to nurture the careers of budding toxicologists and will continue to strengthen and diversify the pipeline of young talent to the field of toxicology.

Tenea M. Nelson

Featured in the 2006 Spring Communiqué

Tenea M. Nelson

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 1998

Current Position: Assistant Dean for Graduate Education, Stanford University School of Medicine

BS, Chemistry, Mary Baldwin College, Program for the Exceptionally Gifted
MS, Toxicology, University of Rochester
PhD, Toxicology, University of Rochester
Associate Scientist, Genentech, Inc.
Research Scientist, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Over the past decades the annual SOT Undergraduate Education Program, organized by the Committee on Diversity Initiatives, has had a meaningful impact on the careers of many members of our Society. Dr. Tenea Nelson is a great example of an individual who took advantagethis Program and continues to contribute to its success.

During her sophomore year of college, at age 15, Tenea Watson decided upon Chemistry major. Through the recommendation of her advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Hairfield, Tenea applied to several summer internships and was accepted to work in a molecular biology laboratory under the tutelage of Janet DiPasquale at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). After two summers at the USDA determining the genetic similarities between viral isolates from cucumber plants, Tenea recognized graduate school as the next step to achieve her educational and professional goals. Tenea decided to pursue a PhD in Toxicology after Dr. Hairfield gave her the SOT book The Resource Guide to Careers in Toxicology (now online). She also had candid conversations with her mother, Aremita Watson, who described her own experiences as an African American female in the sciences.

Tenea then applied to and was invited to attend the 1998 SOT-SCMI Undergraduate Education Program for Minority Students in Seattle, Washington, which confirmed her desire to pursue a PhD in toxicology. As a direct result of this program, Tenea participated in yet another summer internship in the genetic toxicology lab of Warren Ku at Pfizer, studying the induction of cytochrome P450 isoforms by candidate pharmaceuticals. A few weeks later Tenea enrolled in the Toxicology Training Program at the University of Rochester. During her time in graduate school, she studied the immunomodulatory effects of Clara Cell Secretory Protein under Drs. Barry Stripp and Jacob Finkelstein. She was able to network at the SOT Annual Meetings and meet her future manager, who offered her an associate scientist position in the Safety Assessment Department at Genentech. Tenea evaluated the safety of candidate pharmaceuticals to combat cancer and autoimmune disease while employed there. Continuing on the path of drug development, Tenea is currently a toxicologist at Gilead Sciences, in Foster City, California, where she evaluates the safety of pharmaceuticals for the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS.

During school, Tenea was regularly involved in the student recruitment efforts and in affinity groups for underrepresented minorities. At Gententech she was a co-chair of African Americans in Biotechnology. She continues to give back to the community through science education and health awareness. Dr. Nelson encourages underrepresented minorities in the sciences to find a mentor to help them navigate the nuances of higher education and careers.

Tenea has parlayed her interest in broadening diversity in the sciences into her current career as Assistant Dean for Graduate Education and Director of Biosciences Diversity Programs in the Stanford School of Medicine. In her role she develops and manages programs to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities to PhD programs in the Biosciences, such as the Stanford Summer Research Program and the Stanford Diversity Outreach for Doctoral Education Centers of Influence Retreat. She travels the country, attending research conferences and visiting individual schools, to encourage and guide undergraduates in the sciences. Tenea is a member of the Committee for Graduate Admissions and Policy and serves as a mentor for current graduate students.

Jennifer L. Rayner

Featured in the 2006 Special Issue Communiqué

Jennifer L. Rayner

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 2001

Current Position: Toxicologist at SRC

2001 : BS, Biology, BS, Environmental Science, North Carolina
2006 : PhD, Environmental Sciences & Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Since her Anatomy and Physiology class at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Jennifer has known that she would eventually go into the field of science. During the semester-long cat dissection, her interests were piqued in learning how all the little parts come together to create the big picture. This led her to actively pursue research during her undergraduate years at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). The summer before her freshman year in 1997, she participated in the Research Engineering and Apprenticeship Program in the laboratory of Dr. Goldie Byrd at NCCU. She learned molecular biology techniques using Enterobacter agglomerans and Bdellovibrio St. Johns bacterial strains and gained the skills necessary for conducting sound research. During that summer, she also became interested in environmental issues and how they relate to humans, and she decided to major in both biology and environmental science under Yolanda Banks Anderson.

In addition to classes, Jennifer continued to work in Dr. Byrd’s laboratory and was able to present her work in poster format at the National Minority Research Symposium (NMRS) in New Orleans, Louisiana. The following Summer, Jennifer worked in Dr. Jonathan Ladapo’s laboratory (NCCU) purifying and characterizing microorganisms from a recreational lake.

She presented a poster of this work at the 1998 NMRS meeting in New York City. The summer of 1999 found Jennifer in Massachusetts in the MIT Summer Research Program. While there she worked with Dr. Leila Bradley under Dr. Hazel Sive at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research to examine morphological changes in Xenopus laevis injected with Xfrb RNA and Xwnt8 RNA and DNA. That experience showed her how to combine her previous biological research with environmental science and led her to consider the effects of environmental pollutants on embryonic development. Jennifer was able to give a seminar in Cambridge and a poster presentation (NMRS, 1999) of her work.

The next summer she participated in the Summer Pre-Graduate Research Experience Program (SPGRE) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) in Dr. Marc Peifer’s laboratory. There she used Drosophila melanogaster as a model to study the effects of the tumor suppressor adenomatous polyposis coli on muscle and nervous system development in embryos. Through her SPGRE mentor, Dr. LaMont Bryant, Jennifer was able to talk to faculty at UNC as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), where LaMont was conducting his doctoral research. These discussions led to Jennifer volunteering the final semester of her senior year at the US EPA with Dr. Suzanne Fenton. Jennifer was selected during this time to participate in the SCMI Undergraduate Education Program for Minority Students. This program was crucial to influencing Jennifer’s goals as she entered graduate school at UNC-CH. Once again, and with permission of her graduate advisor Dr. Louise Ball, Jennifer began research the summer before starting classes. She chose to remain at the US EPA working with Dr. Fenton on examining how atrazine, a widely used herbicide, affects mammary gland development in offspring exposed during gestation. In 2002, Jennifer presented her work at the North Carolina SOT and Triangle Consortium for Reproductive Biology. She was also asked to serve as a Peer Mentor for the Undergraduate Education Program for Minority Students at the SOT Annual Meeting and gladly accepted.

Since 2002 Jennifer has served as a Peer or Host Mentor for the program and has loved being able to share her experiences with the students. She has also continued to present her work at the Annual Meeting. Through working with the program, Jennifer has made many contacts, one of whom, Charles Azuka, introduced her to the summer intern program at The Proctor & Gamble Company. She participated during the summer of 2005 and worked in the laboratory of George Daston and Jorge Naciff. The summer program, in addition to doing research using in vitro techniques, introduced her to an area of toxicological work different from what she had experienced in academia and government. Jennifer graduated in 2006 with a PhD in Environmental Sciences and Engineering. She is currently working as a toxicologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, where she develops toxicity assessments and technical documents regarding human health risks and environmental impacts. She has several published peer-reviewed journal articles and abstracts. In 2009, Jennifer was appointed to serve on the CDI, and has aided in creating a memorable experience for undergraduate students.

Antonio Baines

Featured in the 2005 Summer/Fall Communiqué

Antonio Baines

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 1993

Current Positions: Associate Professor of Biology and the Cancer Research Program, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

1995 : BS, Biology, Norfolk State University
2001 : PhD, Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Arizona
2001–2006 : Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Science was always one area of study that Antonio Baines enjoyed and excelled in throughout high school. It was this love for science that led him to major in biology as an honors student at Norfolk State University in 1991. Ultimately, this path would lead him to pursue an education that focused on toxicology. Dr. Baines’ first experience with toxicology occurred in his sophomore year of college. One day a senior biology professor asked him if he would be interested in attending the 1993 SOT Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baines accepted the invitation and successfully applied for a Minority Travel Award from SOT.

Two important events occurred at this meeting that significantly influenced Dr. Baines’ decision to work towards a scientific career. First, he was paired with Ed Sargent, an experienced toxicologist who worked for the pharmaceutical company Merck. Dr. Sargent was responsible for taking Dr. Baines “under his wing” at the conference. He demonstrated how to evaluate posters and ask the right types of questions to researchers. This was an eye-opening experience for Dr. Baines that has stayed with him even to this day. Secondly, he was awarded the opportunity to meet Dwayne Hill, one of the minority speakers of the Educational Program at SOT who spoke about his research. At this time, Dr. Hill was a senior-level graduate student at the University of Arizona (U of AZ) and worked in the laboratory of I. Glenn Sipes, a former Department Chair of Pharmacology and Toxicology and a former President of SOT. This meeting resulted in the opportunity to conduct research in toxicology for 2 summers in Dr. Sipes’ lab as an undergraduate student. These two summer research experiences led to an authorship on two publications and a research poster that Dr. Baines presented at the 1995 SOT Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD.

In the Fall of 1995, Dr. Baines entered the graduate program in pharmacology and toxicology at the U of AZ and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Mark A. Nelson. His dissertation research focusing on the mechanism of action of the anticancer effects of selenomethionine (organic derivative of selenium) was presented at several national SOT meetings and a regional Mountain West SOT meeting.

While in graduate school, Dr. Baines participated in different capacities for SOT as a guest speaker for the Undergraduate Education program and as a peer mentor. After receiving his PhD in May 2001, becoming the second African-American to graduate with a doctorate from the Pharmacology and Toxicology graduate program at the U of AZ, Dr. Baines entered a teaching/research postdoctoral fellowship program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Departments of Pharmacology and Radiation Oncology.

Dr. Baines’ research focuses on trying to find novel molecular targets for potential treatments of pancreatic cancer. He continues to work with the Educational program of SOT from time to time. Dr. Baines served as a guest speaker at the 2005 SOT Annual Meeting where he discussed “Mentoring Diverse Undergraduates” with professors and administrators. His career goal is to become a faculty member at an undergraduate institution where he can teach and get students involved and excited about cancer research.

After finishing his postdoc in the summer 2006, Dr. Baines accepted a tenure-track faculty position in the Department of Biology and the Cancer Research Program at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. As a junior faculty member, he splits his time between teaching classes such as Graduate Toxicology and mentoring students in his cancer biology research laboratory. The focus of Dr. Baines’ research lab is to identify and validate novel molecular targets in pancreatic cancer which potentially could be targeted by therapeutics. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Along with helping to discover better treatments against pancreatic cancer, Dr. Baines works to improve the lack of diversity in the sciences and has continued his involvement in the SOT Undergraduate Education Program.

Vanessa M. Silva

Featured in the 2005 Spring Communiqué

Vanessa M. Silva

Undergraduate Diversity Program Honoree: 1995

Eye on SCMI Success

Current Position: Toxicologist at Procter and Gamble

1996 : BS, Pharmacy, University of Puerto Rico School of Pharmacy
2002 : PhD, Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Connecticut
2002–2004 : Postdoctorate Position, University of Rochester
2004 : Procter and Gamble

Since 1989, the annual SOT Undergraduate Education Program for Minority Students, sponsored by the Education Subcommittee for Minority Initiatives (SCMI) has had a meaningful impact on the careers of many members of our Society. Vanessa M. Silva is a great example of an individual who took advantage of this program and continues to contribute to its success.

While obtaining her BS in Pharmacy at the University of Puerto Rico School of Pharmacy, Dr. Silva knew that she wanted to attend graduate school. In order to strengthen her graduate application, she understood that research experience was necessary. In 1994, she joined Braulio Jiménez-Velez’s toxicology laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Pharmacy. Dr. Jiménez-Velez quickly noticed Dr. Silva’s potential as a scientist and encouraged her to apply for research internships and awards. In 1995 Dr. Silva had the honor of being selected to participate in the 1995 SOT-SCMI Undergraduate Education Program for Minority Students Program in Baltimore, Maryland. This program turned out to be a crucial experience in Dr. Silva’s professional career as it was there that she met her PhD advisor, José Manautou and discovered the many opportunities that toxicology has to offer. After working in Dr. Manautou’s laboratory at the University of Connecticut that summer, she was able to write her first abstract for the 1996 SOT in Anaheim, California and subsequently joined the University of Connecticut Graduate Program in 1997. From 1998–2002, she wrote other abstracts focusing on her graduate research: the effects of organic anion in acetaminophen hepatotoxicity. While in graduate school, Dr. Silva took on a different role within the SCMI Program by participating as a peer mentor to other minority undergraduates selected under the same Program she once attended. After receiving her PhD in October 2002, she started her postdoctoral appointment in November 2002, and in July 2003, she received a US EPA pilot project grant to conduct studies on the effects of ultrafine particles in the cardiovascular system. Through these years she continued to participate as a peer mentor and subsequently as a host or well-established toxicologist. As a peer mentor and host in this program, she has been able to encourage many other minorities like herself to pursue graduate studies. In addition, Dr. Silva adds a unique perspective as she is able to share her own personal experiences as an undergraduate student honoree of SCMI, a graduate student and peer mentor of SCMI, and as a newly established toxicologist in the consumer product industry. In her position she is in charge of assessing the safety of raw ingredients in feminine hygiene products as well as safety for new products.