Daring to discover, destined to dominate
Posted on Mar 02, 2021
Fort Valley State University alumna India Brown is proving that women belong in science.
A chic lab geek at heart, India Brown is a natural-born scientist destined to break boundaries.
The experienced biotechnologist began a career in pharmaceuticals before transitioning to the medical device industry. Her path to the scientific world started on Fort Valley State University’s campus. The FVSU alumna dreamed of becoming a forensic psychiatrist. However, her career plans changed when she and her mother, who is also a Wildcat graduate, visited FVSU’s campus in 2007.
Encouraged by registrar Sharee’ Lawrence to pursue an agricultural degree due to her science skills, Brown was not open to the idea initially.
“In my brain, I just saw someone riding a tractor,” she admitted, recalling visits to the campus as a child and seeing fields of cotton and people on tractors. “I was that student who did not know anything about agriculture.”
The 32-year-old Macon, Georgia, native learned about the plant science-biotechnology program and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholarship after meeting plant biotechnology professor Dr. Sarwan Dhir. Yet, it was not until she took his Intro to Biotechnology course that her interest and passion for research sparked.
“That is where the gap began to bridge between agriculture and science and the application of it,” Brown said. “I had no idea. My mind was blown. Dr. Dhir was instrumental in molding me into a scientist and changing my thinking.”
Brown acquired molecular biology skills through research while interning at numerous institutions. At her alma mater, she genetically modified tobacco and stevia to improve stability in the field. At Alabama A&M University, she quantified affected cotton and tomato crops. At Texas A&M University, she developed DNA constructs to channel pathways in model system tobacco to produce fossil fuels.
Additionally, Brown interned in the Botanical Gardens Genomics Laboratory at Fordham University in Bronx, New York, where she quantified naturally occurring drought tolerant genes found in Brassica rapa plants. Her research focused on genetic transformation of medicinal plants such as tobacco and stevia.
“Internships are vital. They are equivalent to job experience when you graduate,” Brown emphasized.
Although at times difficult, she persevered. “Going into some of these arenas where it is even more obvious that you are the minority really played with my confidence. It forced me to trust and believe in what I knew and to remember who I am,” she said.
The proud Wildcat earned her bachelor’s degree in plant science in 2012 and master’s degree in biotechnology in 2015. Her experience at FVSU equipped her with the skills to enter the workforce as an aseptic cell processor at Dendreon Pharmaceuticals in 2016. In her role, she manufactured Provenge, the immunotherapy drug used to treat prostate cancer.
In 2018, Brown joined the medical device industry as a manufacturing technical support (MTS) scientist I for Immucor Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Her focus is on blood-based reagents geared toward blood typing, disease diagnosis and organ transplant matching. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she gained an additional leadership role as MTS laboratory assistant manager. Part of her duties include developing studies to improve the manufacturing process.
“We service the world,” Brown said. “What I enjoy the most about my career is that I am back in the lab.”
Appreciative of her FVSU family’s support, she never imagined her start there would take her in the direction that it did. “I love my HBCU. The biotechnology program at FVSU is unmatched,” she raved.
God and her mother are her biggest motivations. Therefore, to give back, Brown’s passion for science inspired her to develop a nonprofit, Chic Geek CG Corporation (Instagram, @chicgeekme; Facebook, Chic Geek CG), geared toward encouraging minority girls in high school and college to join the STEM field. At age 13, she planted the seed to create this organization, which she successfully launched in 2019.
“I want to change the way that the world sees scientists,” Brown declared.
The young entrepreneur also owns HBCU-ish LLC, an apparel line promoting Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Recently highlighted on Instagram by Black Girls in Biotech and by CaT Bobino with “In the Know with CaT Bobino Podcast,” Brown is making her mark in the science field. Her ultimate career goal is to develop immunotherapy and plant-based drugs to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases.
“I found my niche and a spot where I can excel with my current credentials. There is a market for all of us. Having a Ph.D. is amazing, but you can be just as successful without one,” she said. “STEM is the future, and a career in it will change your life in the best way.”
- FVSU Agriculture College