Mentors and role models have been integral to my professional development at significant points in my career. Like lighthouses, role models illuminate the path for those on a journey. Several individuals at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have inspired and motivated me as I charted new professional territories.
Former NIHers, Doctors Vivian Pinn, Yvonne Maddox, Mary Ann Sestili, and Rear Admiral (RADM) Helena Mishoe, are among the women who have been my mentors. Their commitment to excellence, confidence, and integrity has shown me the path to leadership in the biomedical enterprise. These women also overcame challenges to become exemplars for other women in science and health.
The social representation of a group creates a visible picture of what is accepted and valued in the group. Therefore, it is important to have diverse representation in environments which are meant to be collaborative, like in the field of science. There have been situations when I have been the only African American woman in the room. At those times, I recognized an opportunity to “stand in” for those who were not present. It is important to be the voice and presence for those who are infrequently represented. However, it is not enough to diversify spaces. These environments must also be welcoming, foster mutual respect, and equally acknowledge contributions. Without this, individuals remain invisible.
Before she retired in 2018 from NIH and the US Public Health Service (USPHS), my mentor, RADM Dr. Mishoe, approached me during an NIH Mentorship Symposium. She congratulated me on leading the event and pressed a coin in the palm of my hand. When I opened my hand, I saw she had placed in it a gold engraved challenge coin representing her service and leadership to the USPHS. By presenting me with the coin, I was entrusted with the responsibility of serving with excellence and leading with courage. In taking up this mantle, I have become the lighthouse.
Women like RADM Dr. Mishoe recognize that giving of themselves is necessary for greatness. The proper response to this gift is to give back by showing up as a positive representative in the spaces we occupy. As women continue to break down barriers and challenge traditional systems, more images of women leading discovery and innovation in science will inspire the next generation.
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