Stoddard changes mentoring practices in academia
Shana Stoddard says her goals are to “train people to be mentors,” to change the way people in academia think about mentoring, to connect students with role models and to help all students feel like they belong.
To achieve these goals, she has developed toolkits — frameworks and strategies, essentially — to help academics become engaging mentors.
For this work, Stoddard will receive the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2024 Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award, which honors “an outstanding scientist who has shown a sustained commitment to breaking down local and/or systemic barriers against scientists and students from historically marginalized or excluded groups.”
Loretta Jackson–Hayes, former chair and professor of chemistry at Rhodes College, nominated Stoddard for the award, noting the impact of mentoring practices that support students from underrepresented backgrounds. “Dr. Stoddard is a difference maker regarding increasing participation of students from underrepresented groups in biomedical careers,” Jackson–Hayes wrote.
Improved mentoring to build a strong pipeline in academia requires a mindset change, Stoddard said.
“People want change but are not ready to act,” she said, stressing that universities need to “create a new space where everyone can have a pathway forward.”
There are ways to make change without taking opportunity away from others, she added. “Creating change should not be perceived as a threat.”
Stoddard, an associate professor of chemistry, founded and leads the STEM Cohort Mentoring Program at Rhodes College, which centers Black and African American culture to meet the needs of students from historically underrepresented groups, helping them to complete science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors and go on to successful careers.
Stoddard completed undergraduate studies in chemistry at Prairie View A&M University and her Ph.D. in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Mississippi. She holds a master’s degree from Freed–Hardeman University in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on special education. She was a postdoc in radiological sciences/diagnostic imaging at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a Hearst Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Rhodes, threading her interests in science and teaching throughout her career.
Stoddard said the ASBMB award represents “great affirmation that this work matters and is valued, and it shows that we need to keep doing it and that it’s making an impact.”
Threading two passions: Chemistry and teaching
Shana Stoddard’s lab works to develop peptide-based treatments for autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, lupus and primary membranous nephropathy. Her innovative research agenda attracts a wide range of underrepresented students to her lab.
Stoddard pursues her scientific and educational interests through her “Chemtutorials” project, which lets students learn about women and minorities in STEM, create practice problems and build mentoring relationships with professionals. “Role models are important,” she said, “and we want students to see what they could become.”
Her vision of creating role models and mentors for underrepresented students is key to Stoddard’s work at Rhodes College, and she plans to integrate her two passions in her award lecture at Discover BMB 2024 in San Antonio in March. Her talk is titled “Believe without boundaries” — reflecting her conviction that STEM can change and that everyone belongs.
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