Perseverance, compassion and resilience. These are the traits that we will honor at Homecoming 2018 in this year’s Outstanding Alumnae Awardees: Chamelli Jhappan '79, professional achievement; Natalie (Harris) Martinez ’79, service to community; and Zaira Cedano ’14, rising star.
A passion for the sciences
Almost 40 years after graduating from Mount Saint Mary’s, a STEM major’s heart still beats strong for the sciences.
Chamelli Jhappan ’79, this year’s Outstanding Alumna for Professional Achievement, is a National Cancer Institute (NCI) program director at the National Institutes of Health. At NCI, she supports and helps manage government funding of cancer research in labs around the country.
At the Mount, she majored in biochemistry and minored in computer science. After earning her PhD from Georgetown University, she completed postdoctoral studies at the NCI in Bethesda, Md., which led to a productive career with the federal government’s principal cancer research agency.
Jhappan said her self-confidence grew at the Mount.
“I remember that I had absolutely no qualms about raising my hand in science classes to ask questions, to say I didn’t understand,” she says. “I attributed that fearlessness to the fact that I was surrounded by other women and we believed we could be anything we wanted to be, and that was a pretty powerful feeling.”
Finding one’s passion is a lesson she shares with young women in STEM.
“Don’t shy away from interning in a Jet Propulsion Lab or taking a class in coding or moving to Uganda to study the mating habits of gorillas,” she advises. “You’re going to find your passion in science by stepping out of your comfort zone. Don’t be dissuaded by experiments that don’t work, or that math test you did badly in. (These) difficulties pass and you forget about how awful it was. Just hang in there when you’ve found that area of science that you love.”
Perseverance is a lesson Jhappan learned both as a scientist looking for improved ways to treat cancer and as a cancer patient.
“I’m a cancer survivor who went through a rough few years being treated with radiation while having two little boys at home,” she says. “It was a tough time, but what I learned from those years was that the choice I made to pursue a career in cancer research was going to be worth it. Keeping it all in perspective has been so important.
“Cures don’t come overnight,” she adds. “It takes an entire village of scientists to keep building on discoveries previously made by other scientists who preceded us. We simply must keep showing up and trying. Before we know it, we’ve made giant leaps forward.”
Read about our other 2018 Outstanding Alumnae Award recipients:
Natalie (Harris) Martinez ’79, service to community
Zaira Cedano ’14, rising star