By Meaghan Menzel
This past December, the Society of Toxicology (SOT) announced Washington College’s own Co-Chair and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Mindy Reynolds as the recipient of the Undergraduate Educator of the Year award.
The SOT is “a professional and scholarly organization of scientists from academic institutions, government, and industry representing a great variety of scientists who practice toxicology in the US and abroad…dedicated to developing knowledge for the improvement of the health and safety of living beings and the protection of their environment,” according to their website.
Dr. Reynolds started off with a graduate student membership in the SOT. She said, “Then as I transitioned into my career here, you apply, and it’s not simply an application. You actually have to apply and get member support. So I had to have letters of recommendation written, I had to prove that I published in the field, and I had to prove that I made a substantial contribution to the field in order to become a member. So I went through all of that, and I transitioned up the ranks as being a member during my time at Washington College.”
Dr. Reynolds heard from the SOT that she received the award back in November but was asked not to say anything until the society itself made the announcement in December.
“I was really surprised when I found out I received it because it was nomination based, and I actually had no idea I had been nominated,” Dr. Reynolds said. “So my understanding was that I had been nominated and that part of the nomination is based on letters of recommendation from people who wanted to support me.”
According to Dr. Reynolds, the SOT looks to award toxicologists who not only do research in the field but are also passionate about undergraduate education in the field. “So they’re looking for individuals who are mentoring, teaching, doing research, and really trying to get students excited and pursue Ph.Ds in the toxicology field,” she said.
Toxicology is “the study of the adverse effects of chemical, physical, or biological agents on living organisms and the ecosystem, including the prevention and amelioration of such adverse effects,” according to the SOT website.
Dr. Philip Walsh, Dr. Reynold’s husband, said her award was “completely well deserved. She’s a wonderful teacher, a wonderful mentor, and I’ve learned so much from her. …I’ve never actually seen my wife teach in a live voice, but… I get the ideas back and forth when we’re talking at night… and I’ve learned techniques and ideas from her… She’s done really splendidly since we’ve arrived at Washington College.”
According to Dr. Walsh, Dr. Reynolds “brought toxicology to the Washington College curriculum.”
Toxicology courses, meanwhile, are not common at strictly undergraduate schools. “Undergraduate institutions that offer toxicology courses are less than 10 percent,” Dr. Reynolds said.
She said that she offered it her first year at WC in the spring of 2009 and continues to teach it every alternating spring semester. The class generally consists of 10 to 16 students.
“I like it being small because it’s run more as a graduate course. We do a lot of reading and presentations versus lectures and tests, but what always excites me is that after students take the class, I’ll hear from them about ‘Oh, did you see this article,’ or ‘Did you know that I just read this article about this chemical?’ and it shows me that they really embrace the idea of toxicology and they’re excited.”
In regards to her own research, Dr. Reynolds said, “I’m a metal toxicologist, and now I study cadmium, nickel, and cobalt. These are metals that people are pretty prevalently exposed to… and they have been shown to lead to the production of cancer, but we don’t really understand how they cause cancer. So in my lab we look at what causes cells to become cancerous when they’re exposed to these metals, looking at the processes of that through both cellular and molecular techniques.”
“I see the passion,” said Dr. Walsh. “I see the day-to-day work that she and her students do at the lab, and it’s inspiring in some ways. …It’s something that I know takes a certain mentality, intelligence, and fortitude, and that’s what I really admire about it all.”
The SOT will hold its annual meeting this coming March in San Diego where Dr. Reynolds will receive her award. According to Dr. Reynolds, “This is one of the largest meetings of toxicologists in the world.” Roughly around 1,500 people attend, and it’s a great place to network, catch up with old colleagues and generate new ideas.
According to Dr. Reynolds, she will not be the only one receiving an award. Senior Katherine Fulda will also attend in order to receive “a very competitive travel award.”
Overall, Dr. Walsh said that Dr. Reynolds was happy to receive the award. “I think if anything, it recognizes her as a leading voice in the field of education in toxicology.”