Dr. Lance Shipman pursued a career in science because he had a good mentor — a "pivotal" high school teacher who encouraged an interest that took root when he was a child watching Mr. Wizard on television and improvising chemistry experiments in his Newark, N.J., home.
Today, the 31-year-old assistant professor of chemistry from Atlanta's Morehouse College is taking advantage of another mentoring opportunity, this time in Dr. Barry Stoddard's lab and a program to expose science teachers and students of diverse backgrounds to the environment at the Hutchinson Center.
"This certainly is a research-intensive environment and that is something that you miss at an undergraduate institution," said Shipman, who has taught at Morehouse for two years. "At Morehouse, we put a lot more emphasis on research today than, say, 15 years ago. However, we are not able to jump in with the same rigor that scientists here are. Just being able to engage in conversations about the state of science, scientific problems and seeing the level of work that the scientists have here has been really rewarding. I have access to state-of-the-art facilities, so I don't want for anything here in terms of getting experiments done and that's really good."
Shipman brought one of his undergraduate chemistry students with him, Travis Goode. So both the teacher and the student are receiving training at the Hutchinson Center.
"Having Travis here and having us be in contact with each other in a lab that is well-equipped has allowed me to expose Travis to a lot more in terms of techniques and in terms of science and concepts that I wouldn't have been able to do at Morehouse. I think that's the rewarding component for us."
"I actually came here specifically to work with Barry Stoddard and David Baker at the University of Washington to learn a new algorithm to repack proteins so that they could have novel function and novel recognitions. That is something completely new that I'll be taking away from this experience."
Shipman learned of Stoddard's program to bring professors to the Center when Stoddard visited Morehouse to pitch the opportunity for undergraduates. His Morehouse colleague, Dr. David Cooke, had spent the summer here in 2003.
"I spoke to Barry briefly and he mentioned that there was a visiting science program so I dug into it a little bit deeper because I did want to bring some things back to the college, learn some new techniques. And to just get away so I could be productive."
Although he teaches chemistry, Shipman considers himself to be a structural biologist. "My questions revolve around understanding the structure and function of proteins, specifically the regulation of an enzyme called glucokinase. It is expressed in various tissues in the human body as well as other mammalian organisms. We're looking at how glucokinase in the liver and the pancreas are affected by a separate protein, a regulatory protein that, in its absence, allows glucokinase to have robust function and, in its presence, actually inhibits the protein and shuts it down."
Shipman is the fourth visiting scientist to come to the Center for the summer through the National Cancer Institute's Continuing Umbrella of Research Excellence Program (CURE), which supports outreach and education for people of color.
"It is particularly gratifying to have him here, as his background in chemistry and ongoing activities in structural biology are very similar to mine," Stoddard said. "He has brought an outstanding series of experiments to the Center, and we both hope that he can take his work back to Morehouse this fall and use it to help expand his research training projects there. It's has been a real pleasure to get to know Lance; he is a terrific example of the outstanding nature of Morehouse and its faculty, students and staff."
Sharing a love of science
Shipman received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Morehouse in 1995 and his chemistry doctorate from Texas A&M University in 2001. Shipman did his postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University School of Medicine. That he returned to his undergraduate alma mater to work is a result of his first teaching experiences in graduate school.
"When I was an undergrad my interest was to go into the pharmaceutical industry, and during my first year in graduate school I'm not sure that had necessarily changed until I had that first experience with teaching. That was so rewarding. Not only did I know that I wanted to teach, but I wanted to give back to the institution that gave me so much. It was a dream of sorts to go back to Morehouse. I didn't know if it was really going to pan out, but I kept my eyes open and as soon as the opportunity arose, I jumped at it."
Shipman answers with an emphatic "absolutely" when asked whether people of color are underrepresented in the sciences.
"Some fields are worse than others, but there is definitely a dearth of activity and contribution from African Americans and from minorities at large. When I first arrived at the Center, it was fairly obvious that while this is a very collegial environment and people are very supportive in allowing me to get research done, you walk up and down these halls and there aren't a lot of minorities, particularly African Americans. And that's okay. I've gotten used to it because I've been in this game for a little while now. For other scientists, like Travis, the student that I brought here and for the students that I serve at my institution, I wonder if that colors their perspective about how successful they can be in the sciences when they don't see role models, when they don't see a lot of people outside of the campus who are active in doing research. It is important that they see that we are not the exception to the rule."
Shipman said most science students at Morehouse are more interested in computer science, engineering or medical school than laboratory science, partly because they see more successful African Americans in those professions. He said his time at the Center would help him encourage his students to consider bench science because he will return more energized than ever about his own profession.
"Being back in this type of environment, I'm reminded of what it felt like to be a graduate student again, or to be a postdoc, and to just have the love for the sciences and to think about it day-in and day-out. If nothing else, I know that I will take that energy back to them. I will be talking about this experience with them for quite some time. They are keen — they pick up on things like that. If they see that it's something that's, first of all, attainable, and also something that excites people — excites people of color, then I think it's something that will be worthwhile for them."
The Hutchinson Center Community Advisory Council and Community Relations/Outreach will host a reception and opportunity to meet Dr. Lance Shipman on Aug. 10, 4-5:30 p.m., in the Thomas Building, room D1-080. A special invitation is extended to all visiting students and faculty participating in the summer research internship programs. For more information, contact Winona Hollins Hauge at (206) 667-1246 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To R.S.V.P., contact Michael Robinson at (206) 667-4211, or email@example.com.