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April 2011

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Young NIEHS fellow featured in new video

By Matt Goad
April 2011

Quiana Childress

After Childress' graduation last year, her story gained national attention. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS is playing a part in the remarkable story of Quiana Childress, a young woman who went from being homeless in rural Arkansas to graduating from college, pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor, and staring in a new video produced by her sorority to help raise funds for scholarships.

A recent graduate of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), Childress has applied to medical school and is anxiously awaiting acceptance. While she waits, Childress is working as a research fellow at NIEHS.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Childress' sorority at UAPB, which awarded her an Educational Advancement Foundation(http://www.akaeaf.org/) Exit NIEHS $25,000 scholarship for medical school, commissioned a video to be made about her story, and two other AKA scholars. A videographer came from Chicago to shoot footage of Childress at the NIEHS main campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

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Childress previously served as the AKA Alpha Rho chapter vice president and Arkansas undergraduate cluster coordinator for the organization.

"My time at NIEHS has been tremendously helpful, allowing me to really develop my scientific thought process and research skills," said Childress. "I get to use some of the latest equipment in research and work with some of the best colleagues who continue to push me to excel." She credits Stavros Garantziotis, M.D., her NIEHS mentor, with helping her learn to think like a researcher.

Garantziotis said Childress has the right qualities for an excellent medical career. "She is a remarkably level-headed, personable, and mature young woman," Garantziotis said. "She also brings with her other qualities, such as empathy, compassion, and a keen insight into the human condition. No doubt her life experiences have informed these qualities. These qualities, together with her intellect, moved me to recruit her to my lab."

First lady Michelle Obama, the UAPB commencement speaker last May, singled out Childress at the graduation ceremony as an example of triumph over adversity.

When Childress was only 16 years old, she became homeless. The teenager lived out of a car, as she struggled to finish high school while also working two jobs. Childress said she would usually wake up at 3:00 a.m. to study.

Knowing that she would have a hard time paying her way through college, even with scholarships, Childress completed a one-year licensed practical nursing (LPN) program before enrolling at UAPB. As a college student, she worked at a nearby all-male maximum security prison, where she became an inspiration to the inmates.

"Some of the guys," Childress said, "they came up to me and they said, 'You inspire us. We didn't all quite have it that bad and we took alternate routes. But you didn't.' "

For most people, college and work would be a big enough challenge, but Childress said she also volunteered for American Red Cross and the Pine Bluff Boys and Girls Club, and chartered two organizations, the Doc Jones Forensic Science Team and the UAPB School of Arts and Science Student Advisory Council. She also took advantage of research opportunities in Alaska, at Yale University School of Medicine, and received a NASA/Arkansas Space Grant Consortium grant.

In 2010, Childress graduated summa cum laude - with the highest grade point average in the School of Arts and Sciences - with a bachelor's degree in biology.

(Matt Goad is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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