I can honestly say that I am inspired by the students, and they are, by far, the most rewarding part of my job!
A dedicated practitioner of the Integrated Scholar concept, TIEHH associate professor Jaclyn Cañas-Carrell works to open doorways into science for students from underrepresented groups. She serves as director of the Plains Bridges to the Baccalaureate (PBB) Program, which has supported minority science students of South Plains College in successfully transferring to Texas Tech since 2008. Also, she serves as the College of Arts and Sciences associate director in the Texas Tech STEM Center for Outreach, Research and Education. In recognition of her efforts to promote and support diversity on campus, Cañas-Carrell received the TTU President’s Excellence in Diversity and Equity Award in 2009 and 2013. As for her research, Cañas-Carrell studies the effects of emerging contaminants on the environment. Her investigations in the areas of analytical toxicology and environmental chemistry help to inform her teaching and keep her course material compelling. Cañas-Carrell also mentors students in her laboratory, following the example set for her by fellow Integrated Scholar, mentor and colleague Todd Anderson. This emphasis on research earned her the Chancellor's Council Distinguished Research Award in 2013. Cañas-Carrell is twice an alumna of Texas Tech—she earned both her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees here.
Learn more about Integrated Scholar Jaclyn Cañas-Carrell in this question-and-answer session.
What are your research objectives and interests?
I have two main research interests:
My research program focuses on evaluating the fate and toxicity of emerging contaminants, such as manufactured nanomaterials. Our nanotoxicology research has focused primarily on the fate and toxicity of carbon nanotubes in both terrestrial and aquatic systems.
My second research interest is in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and training. I am very interested in implementing and running STEM programs at the undergraduate level to not only increase interest in the STEM fields, but to ultimately increase the number of students, especially those from underrepresented groups, earning bachelor's degrees in STEM fields. I am currently serving as an associate director in the TTU STEM Center for Outreach, Research, and Education.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
Research in environmental toxicology, in general, has direct impacts on not only human health, but also all other organisms and the environment. All the research we do is with the intent of assessing the toxicity of a substance as well as the implications if an organism is exposed. Our research in the area of nanotoxicology is aiding to provide critical data that can be used in future risk assessments of manufactured nanomaterials.
My research in STEM education and training has directly impacted students both at Texas Tech University and South Plains College with regard to STEM experiences. In addition, with a strong focus on students from underrepresented groups, my research efforts have yielded an increase in the number of diverse students pursuing and obtaining degrees in STEM, which ultimately increases the diversity of the STEM workforce. This addresses a major need as the demographics of the United States are shifting.
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
The majority of my service has been focused in the areas of STEM education and training, undergraduate research, and diversity. At the university level, I’ve co-taught an environmental toxicology class for the annual Science: It’s a Girl Thing since 2007. I also serve as the faculty adviser, since 2008, of the TTU Chapter of SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science). I am also active in service activities related to undergraduate research. One example would be that I serve on the Advisory Committee for the Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement because of my history related to undergraduate research. At the professional level, I belong to several professional societies, including SACNAS and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). My service to SACNAS is student centered by reviewing conference abstracts, serving as a mentor at the National Conference and serving as a chapter adviser. In SETAC, I serve on the Student Activities Committee, which aims to provide professional development for students at the national conference and raises funds to provide annual student training awards to enhance their research.
What are you currently working on?
I have several ongoing projects, but the two most pressing right now would be my NSF-funded nanotoxicology study and my NIH-funded Bridges to the Baccalaureate program. We are in the final year of our NSF study, where we are assessing uptake of carbon nanotubes into various crop species. We are interested in assessing potential human exposure through food consumption. We collaborate with faculty in the College of Engineering to use a microwave-induced heating method (developed by our interdisciplinary team and currently has a patent pending) to measure the concentration of nanotubes in the plants.
My Bridges to the Baccalaureate program was recently renewed by the National Institutes of Health for another five years. We are in the process of implementing the second phase of the program. The first cohort supported by the renewed grant started in January 2014, and so we are working on new programming for these students. We are gearing up to place students in laboratories for a 10-week summer research experience on the TTU main campus or at the TTU Health Sciences Center.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I definitely find my inspiration from the students that I interact with on a daily basis. I am fortunate to train and teach mostly graduate students. My research group is strong, and my students motivate me to strive to do the best science possible. As a part of my work in STEM education and training, I deal mostly with undergraduates. When I see how my efforts benefit them directly or how the opportunities I’ve set in their path have changed lives, I am encouraged and inspired to continue to seek funding to provide such experiences for these students. So I can honestly say that I am inspired by the students, and they are, by far, the most rewarding part of my job!
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research and service—in their careers?
I would advise new faculty to focus most of their time and energy on establishing a research program and preparing for their courses. Early on, it is important to limit the amount of service. I would encourage new faculty to choose activities closely related to what they are most passionate about. For example, it is possible to choose service activities that align with their research or teaching passions. This allows for an integration of their research, service and teaching while allowing for a good balance of the three components without stretching oneself too thin. I strongly believe that trying to tie service activities in with teaching and research provides an overall greater job satisfaction.
Growing up, I liked and excelled in math and science, so people around me (parents and teachers) told me I should become a physician. That was my plan until I discovered undergraduate research as a junior in the Department of Environmental Toxicology. I had an excellent research mentor and fell in love not only with the field of environmental toxicology, but also fell in love with doing research. The field is constantly changing with the need to do research on emerging contaminants and is an applied science with direct implications on human health. Even though I was accepted into medical school, I chose to follow my true passion of a graduate degree in environmental toxicology.
B.S., Zoology, Texas Tech University (2001);
Ph.D., Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University (2005)