In May 2015, Dr. Marie Bourgeois will begin her official term as president of the Southeastern Society of Toxicology. Currently vice president, Bourgeois seems to be trying to hold every position SESOT has to offer. Since joining as a doctoral student in 2007, she also has served as student representative, secretary and treasurer.
Although her term has yet to start, Bourgeois, College of Public Health research assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, already has begun her presidential duties, including planning the regional SESOT meeting. In previous years, the meeting has been held in Georgia, but this time around, it might be held right in Tampa.
“I want to hold it at USF. I think we have the facilities and amenities on campus to make it feasible,” she said. “I conducted a poll at the last meeting, and people seemed quite enthusiastic about the change of venue. We have enough health science, nursing, pharmacy and toxicology students here to have a great student poster session.”
The only thing standing in her way, she said, is Florida’s weak participation with the regional and national chapters. While toxicology programs exist at several universities in Florida, only a handful of schools have actually become members of the national chapter, and none are members of the regional chapter.
“This needs to change if we are going to grow regionally. Florida should play a larger role in a group comprised of southeastern states,” Bourgeois said. “There are multiple companies in Florida that employ toxicologists, and these should also be targeted for membership recruitment. I will also be encouraging other officers to reach out to institutions in their own states. This chapter needs to grow if it is going to thrive.”
No stranger to the recruiting game, Bourgeois shouldn’t have difficulty pumping up Florida’s participation – she has been perfecting her skills as an undergraduate recruiter for toxicology graduate programs.
“I have also encouraged all of our undergraduate and graduate students to join the chapter,” she said. “‘Strong-armed’ is such a harsh word!”
Another aspect Bourgeois plans to focus on during her term is K-12 outreach. She has been the SESOT K-12 outreach representative since 2007, as well as a member of the Regional Chapter Contacts Group and K-12 Taskforce, both of which are education subcommittees.
Outside of SESOT, she has always been involved in programs like the Great American Teach-In and outreach events designed to give the public a basic understanding of an educational topic.
Recently, Bourgeois and students from the Toxicology Student Association participated in an event at Fair-Family Abilities Information Rallies, where they demonstrated basic toxicological principles to children and adults with hands-on activities. Attendees of all ages were able to make lava lamps or huge, colorful volcanoes of foam called “elephant toothpaste” that demonstrated the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.
“I need to convince the other members that K-12 outreach is necessary and fun,” said Bourgeois. “I can’t be the only one in the chapter who does it!”
SOT is committed to both K-12 outreach and toxicology education on regional and national levels and dedicates an event solely to outreach at the national meeting, Bourgeois said. This year, she has been tasked with the high school poster exposition, in which local teenagers from underserved schools are invited to prepare projects and posters for display at the annual SOT meeting.
Bourgeois is also an officer for a specialty section at SOT and for the regional chapter of the American Chemical Society.
“I volunteer for way too much,” she said. “It’s a sickness!”
The coming new year looks like a promising one for SESOT and its new president, armed with years of outreach experience, recruiting and SOT participation. If Bourgeois is lucky, the organization will create a space above president by the following year, because she is running out of positions to hold.
Story by Shelby Bourgeois, College of Public Health writing intern.