As a young student in Guyana, Rhonda Souvenir decided her future at age 12.
“I attended school in the British system,” says Souvenir, PhD, associate of internal medicine, endocrinology and metabolism. “In that system, you choose that you wish to study before secondary school. Science was my passion and my mother nurtured that passion.”
Souvenir’s teachers also encouraged her to pursue her interests.
“My most influential high school teacher was Ms. Brown who helped inspire my love of biology,” she recalls. “When I went to university, I had Dr. Paul, who had taught four of my cousins, all of whom went on to medical school. And for my postdoctoral work, I’ve worked with Dale Abel, MD, who is absolutely brilliant.”
Pursuing STEM careers
Souvenir realizes, however, that many Black and minority students face steep obstacles in their pursuit of scientific careers.
“My hope for the next generation of minority scientists is that they won’t be afraid to dream,” says Souvenir. “Minority students can look at those who have gone before them. They can dream bigger, to aspire to bigger visions than our generation had,” she says.
Souvenir’s own dreams led her to study biology as an undergraduate; microbiology and molecular genetics as a doctoral student. Her post-doctoral fellowships have focused on researching mitochondrial dysfunction.
“My most exciting finding overall as a researcher was when I found out that in the absence of OPA1 proteins, male animals and female animals acted totally different,” she says.
Recognition for her research
Souvenir originally worked with Abel at the University of Utah. She followed him and his lab to Iowa.
“One of the things I absolutely love about Iowa is the collaborative environment,” says Souvenir. “This allows you to push your research way beyond what you would have been able to if you were in a hyper-competitive environment.”
She was recently named as one of 1,000 inspiring Black scientists in America.
“It was very humbling to be selected,” she says. “It was also motivating at the same time. I was recognized for doing my work and doing it well.”