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Shermaine Mitchell-Ryan

December 20, 2011

Shermaine Mitchell-Ryan, a third-year Ph.D. student in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, received the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships (F31) to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research from the National Institutes of Health.

“The F31 grant will play a critical supporting role in my pursuit of a career as an academic scientist, ensuring that the field of science will be open to diversity in thought and person,” said Mitchell-Ryan, who is mentored by Larry Matherly, Ph.D., professor of Oncology and Pharmacology. “I am extremely grateful for this support and committed to following in the footsteps of Dr. Kirschstein by dedicating myself to mentoring, encouraging and supporting individuals from communities underrepresented in research science.”

Kirschstein was considered an icon at the NIH. She performed important laboratory work on the polio vaccine, was the first woman to direct an NIH (the National Institute of General Medical Sciences) and served as deputy director and acting director of the NIH. She advocated for research training, especially interdisciplinary predoctoral programs and programs to increase the ranks of minority researchers and physician-researchers.

"Shermaine is a unique student in terms of her commitment to an academic career,” Dr. Matherly said. “As an African-American woman, she serves as an excellent role model to other under-represented minorities who might have a penchant for scientific research and academic achievement."

Being nominated by Dr. Matherly, Mitchell-Ryan said, was “was an honor in itself -- a clear demonstration of Dr. Matherly’s faith and belief in me as a graduate student who embodies the ideals and principles the award is based upon.

“As an African-American female from a working class family of very modest means, I experienced firsthand a dearth of scientist role models familiar to me,” she said. “I struggled to find people to help me believe that a nerdy, inquisitive and sassy little black girl with a microscope could grow up to be the scientist I so badly wanted to be.”

Mitchell-Ryan obtained her bachelor’s degree in biology at St. Mary’s Public Honors College of Maryland and a master’s degree in cancer biology, prevention and control from the University of the District of Columbia and the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University. She is participating in research that focuses on the development of novel therapeutics that target tumors that express folate receptor alpha.

In addition to her current award, she previously received the Dean’s Diversity Fellowship and a Rumble Fellowship. She holds an appointment on the NIH T32-CA009531 Training Grant.

With a strong interest in health care disparities, Mitchell-Ryan hopes to become an independent investigator focusing on therapies that may aid in reducing the disproportional rates of cancer incidence, morbidity and mortality in the African-American community.

In addition to her academics, she was elected student representative for the Cancer Biology Graduate Program and serves as a volunteer for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Susan G. Komen Detroit Race for the Cure Volunteer Speakers Bureau.