Kristopher Weekes said that until he became involved in a Fort Valley State University program that focused on toxicology-based research this year, he’d fully planned to pursue a career in animal science. Now the FVSU senior from Snellville, Georgia plans to pursue his secondary education in the field of ecology when he graduates in December 2018.
“Specifically, I want to study about ecology and focus on amphibians and reptiles, and explore how toxins areimpacting their environments,” Weekes said. “I think
toxicology is so important and so underrepresented. You don’t hear about it too much, but it affects the vast majority of us.”
Over the past three years, Weekes and other FVSU students have been the benefactors of a $399,049 National Science Foundation grant which allows students and faculty researchers to examine the effect of toxins or toxic chemicals on the environment and living organisms. The funding has been used to purchase equipment for a toxicology lab, support undergraduate research, and to develop materials for toxicology lectures.
Dr. Celia Dodd, an associate professor of biology and the principal investigator, sought out the grant in February 2015 by submitting a proposal entitled “Targeted Infusion Project: Infusion of Toxicology into Biology and Chemistry Programs at Fort Valley State University.” As part of the program, FVSU partnered with the University of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide students with internships and to support additional faculty training for the enhancement of FVSU’s undergraduate curriculum, according to Dodd.
Other members of the FVSU faculty serving as student mentors include Department of Chemistry professors Dr. Robin Bright and Dr. Tiffani Holmes as well as Seema Dhir, Dr. Felicia Jefferson, and Dr. Frederick McLaughlin from the Department of Biology.
Dodd said she is pleased with their success in exposing students to the field of toxicology and to the associated research and internship opportunities.
“Before we received this grant, I don’t believe our students even knew what the word toxicology really meant, and now a lot of them know the field and much, much more,” she said. “Through the implementation of this grant, we’ve been able to put toxicology into their vernacular and to have it as a discipline that they may consider pursuing as a career.”
The grant, she said, has introduced more than 60 FVSU students over three years to the field through new courses introduced into the biology curriculum, attendance at conferences, and speakers from the Environmental Protection Agency, industry, and toxicology graduate programs. Three of her students are now pursuing a master’s degree in public health because of the program.
In addition, multiple students have won awards for their conference presentations related to the project.
“We also have quite a few who are pursuing medical degrees, becoming physician’s assistants, and going to veterinary school,” Dodd said.
“I think our job as undergraduate educators is to make sure our students are aptly trained and have some technical expertise so when they go off to an internship or graduate school, they have some sense of what it means to complete research,” she said. “Our collaborators have been impressed.
Main image: Dr. Celia Dodd (right) and student researcher Kristopher Weekes.