For Black History month, the ReTOOL Program has decided to feature our young Black scientists as they embark on exciting careers. Today’s featured alumni is Casandra Walker.
Which school did you attend?
I am a PhD Candidate studying Molecular Pharmacology/Toxicology at the University of Southern California, and am investigating the effects of two known endocrine-disrupting chemicals, Genistein and 2-(diethyl-hexyl phthalate) (DEHP), on male reproductive pathologies such as infertility and cancer.
What are you currently studying/researching?
I am studying at the University of Southern California, Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Who is your science hero?
I have a number of “science heroes”. Historically, Dolores Cooper Shockley. She was the first black, female to earn a PhD in Pharmacology. She was also the first black woman to chair a pharmacology department in the United States. Also, my mentor Dr. Leeshawn Thomas, and colleague Dr. Aurellia Whitmore are two black scientists that I look up to. I admire their drive, determination, and ability to gracefully place themselves in the intersection between being black, holding doctorate degrees in STEM, and remaining true to their core values. I feel that these are remarkable characteristics that embody what it means to be a modern day scientist.
What does it mean to you to be a young Black scientist?
To be a young black scientist means that I am placing myself in a position to face adversity in order to bring diversity to STEM; and undergo training to one day develop novel therapeutics for diseases prevalent in minority and underserved communities, such as sickle cell and prostate cancer. Traditionally, minorities (especially black women) are under-represented in STEM fields. One of my goals is to increase the visibility of black female scientists. I think it’s important that we show today’s youth that there is space for them in any field they choose, especially STEM. My goal is to show young girls that they too can be scientists and people of color, all the while remaining true to themselves!
What message would you like to send to young Black students interested in cancer research?
Never give up! The learning curve is steep, and the tasks will be difficult. But the prize at the end is so rewarding. Take every opportunity as a chance to learn and grow, and dedicate yourselves to being the best scientists you can be! Continue to strive to be as resilient as the ones who have paved the way for you, and always work hard so that you can pave the way for others. Lean on your colleagues, friends, and mentors. They want the absolute best for you and the best for the community. Together we will excel, we will effect change, and we will win.
Do you have anything else you would like to add or mention?
In 2019, I founded my non-profit organization, Curls and Careers. Curls and Careers is dedicated to equipping secondary and post-secondary students of color with the tools they need to thrive professionally, academically, and in the face of adversity. For more information, an application to be paired with a mentor, and receive resources that will help you get to your dream career, please visit curlsandcareers.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.