This week’s #WCWinSTEM is Dr. Keturah Odoi, a chemist interested in understanding the epigenetic role of proteins in cancer development.
As compiled by Chrystelle Vilfranc
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I was born in Ghana, West Africa and moved to Oklahoma when I was fifteen. Initially, it was a challenge adjusting to American culture because I had to learn differently and cope with a totally new environment. But with time, my exposure to diverse cultures gave me a global mindset instead of just local or national impact.
My passion for science, particularly chemistry, developed when I was at Aburi Girl’s Secondary School in Ghana. It was not until I got to Southwestern Oklahoma State University where I saw that dream actualize because of the many resources and opportunities available. With the help of my high school AP Chemistry teacher, Ms. Willingham, and my college professor and mentor, Dr. Campbell, I was able to see my dreams unfold by their mentorship.
I realized that to be the best in your field, you have to give someone the opportunity to teach and train you in that path. While I was pursuing my Chemistry doctoral degree at Texas A&M University, I served as a Student Chapter President for The National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and the Campus Ministry Coordinator for Believers’ LoveWorld (BLW) at Texas A&M.
These experiences encouraged me to start a mentorship program called Harutek with the intention to raise preeminent chemists in the society. This program is tailored to mentor top undergraduate chemistry students from Africa who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in the United States. I strongly believe this program uses chemistry as a tool to help bridge the gap between different cultures and cultivates a global mindset amongst the students.
I realized that to be the best in your field, you have to give someone the opportunity to teach and train you in that path.
What do you do?
My dissertation focused on the development and application of diverse methods to understand cancer epigenetics in certain proteins. I explored the limitless functionalities and regulations of certain proteins to understand their epigenetic roles in cancer development. I focused on engineering these proteins by biologically synthesizing molecules with unique physical, chemical or biological properties that mimic the intrinsic protein modification which occurs in the complex biological systems. I recently received my Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from Texas A&M University and am looking to obtain a postdoctoral position soon.
I believe through the life chapters of other women of color in STEM, others can also find their unique story.
Why do you do it?
I have always been interested in understanding how things work on a molecular level, so furthering my education in chemistry to gain mastery in this field was a priority for me. With what I have learned, I can also help others develop or refine their own interests in STEM.
Why do you think it is important to highlight WoCinSTEM?
It is very important because women of color in STEM need to know that there are many out there like themselves pursuing degrees and working in STEM fields. This makes a seemingly impossible reality a rather reachable accomplishment! I was particularly inspired by women like Sharon Haynie (DuPont), Talitha Mayo (NOBCChE President), and Keisha Wilson McDowell (DuPont); their example helped me stay focused on making my dream of obtaining a science degree a reality. I believe through the life chapters of other women of color in STEM, others can also find their unique story.
Tell us something you’re interested in outside of STEM…
Aside chemistry, my other favorite things to do are to try food from different cultures and to learn more about embracing my “natural” hair. Whenever I get the opportunity, I like to participate in volleyball because I played on my high school team.
Thank you, Keturah, for being such a good example of what it looks like to accomplish your dreams. Best of luck as you pursue your postdoctoral position!
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