October 21, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Samantha McNeal has just begun her doctoral program in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences (ENHS), but she’s already immersing herself in service within the field. She recently agreed to serve as the Graduate Student Representative for the Toxicologists of African Origin Special Interest Group within the Society of Toxicology.
Originally from Denver, McNeal earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a Master of Public Health before enrolling at the Arnold School to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Health Sciences. “The Center for Environmental NanoScience & Risk (CENR) and their work with nanomaterials are what attracted me to USC,” she says. “I knew I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in environmental health sciences, but more specifically I wanted to focus on risk assessment and risk management concerning nanomaterials; CENR is doing just that.”
In particular, McNeal sought out CENR’s Mohammed Baalousha, who has become her mentor, because of his extensive expertise in nanotechnology. “I was also drawn to the fact that the ENHS program is based on an interdisciplinary approach that includes environmental microbiology, toxicology and exposure sciences—which are all critical components,” she says. As a bonus, she has found all of the faculty and students to be extremely friendly and welcoming.
Post-graduation, McNeal would like to work in the area of risk assessment and risk management for industry while serving as a university adjunct professor. Her current role will give her some of the exposure and experience she needs to work toward these goals. The Toxicologists of African Origin Special Interest Group carries the same mission as the Society of Toxicology (i.e., creating a safer/healthier world by advancing toxicology) while engaging and providing a voice to scientists of African ancestry as well as those from other underrepresented backgrounds.
In McNeal’s position as the group’s Graduate Student Representative, she will help further the mission and objectives of the Society and that of her interest group—particularly pertaining to graduate student interests and engagement. As an officer, she has voting rights and will participate in collaborative decision-making with the other officers.
This role builds well on the international experience McNeal obtained during her master’s program. While overseas, she interned with Komfo Anokey Teaching Hospital in Ghana where she assisted with an electronic medical records project to help improve the detection of disease trends and better identify potential sources. McNeal also helped conduct surveys about the perception of environmental pollution in the Ashanti region and discussed solid and liquid waste management strategies with the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana.
“These experiences really brought environmental toxicology to life for me, which helped fuel my passion for this new position,” she says. “I now have the ability and better resources, through my affiliation with this organization, to raise awareness and help address these issues from a toxicological standpoint among various communities.”
It also reaffirms her commitment to her doctoral program and to the field. “When it comes to ENHS, the sky is the limit,” McNeal says. “The research we do provides the necessary evidence to protect and sustain our everyday lives.”