Fostering futures in STEM

Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, Simone Soso’s parents, a medical doctor and a speech pathologist, continually encouraged her interest in science and math. As an undergraduate at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Soso (’16 PhD environmental science) received funding from the NSF Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program (LSAMP).

“I grew up in an environment where Black people excelled in STEM areas,” Soso says. “My undergrad experience was the first time I met so many people who were first generation college students. In doing my research, I saw the need for programs like LSAMP and discovered I wanted to help others like me gain access to STEM fields.”

As a program manager and research associate for the Quality Education for Minorities Network, Soso works with historically Black colleges and universities, historically Hispanic serving institutions and Tribal colleges and universities to provide education and resources for students and faculty in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

She earned her master’s in animal health science from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T), and was encouraged by fellow A&T alum, Derrick Coble (’13 PhD genetics), to continue her education at Iowa State .

“Derrick told me Iowa State was among the top, and would be an excellent choice for a PhD in an agricultural field,” Soso says.

Her education and previous internship at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park led her to study with Jacek Koziel at Iowa State. Koziel, professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, was researching how chemical and odor components of lion and tiger marking fluid play a role in animal behavior.

“Simone’s superb research resulted in three publications in highly-ranked journals,” Koziel says. “She made the best of her multidisciplinary project at the nexus of animal science, chemistry and engineering. During her studies, she traveled to India and worked with world-renowned experts in mammalian pheromones. Her work is often cited by scientists working with animal scents, animal behavior and wildlife conservation.”

At Iowa State SoSo served on the board of the Black Graduate Student Association, co-founded the Environmental Science Graduate Association and served as the STEM program coordinator for the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship program.

“Simone was phenomenal to work with – she has an energy, light and passion for helping young people understand the intersection between research, policy and career opportunities,” says Theressa Cooper, assistant dean for diversity in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “She also was an outstanding mentor to students in Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences . It’s great to see her continuing her work in this area.”

Soso encourages students to promote, build and nurture an inclusive community.

“Look beyond your comfort areas to attend trainings and meet people who are different than you,” Soso says. “Iowa State has student organizations and resources for all areas of interest. Seek opportunities to connect with people – I guarantee there’s a community and a place for you at Iowa State.”