Writing

NIH ANNOUNCES ENHANCING THE DIVERSITY OF THE NIH-FUNDED WORKFORCE INITIATIVE
sacnas.org | Digital Content | 2015
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced awards of nearly $50 million to fund Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce, a bold initiative to better end the disparity of underrepresented minority (URM) researchers in biomedical sciences. SACNISTAs Dr. David Burgess of Boston College, Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña of San Francisco State University, and Dr. Lourdes Echegoyan of University of Texas El Paso, are Lead Principal Investigators for key portions of the NIH funding and many additional SACNISTAs are grant recipients and Principal Investigators (PIs). From this initiative’s inception to rollout, SACNAS and its members have been prominent strategic NIH partners, pursuing the shared goal of diversifying the sciences. Read more


BRAVING THE BAR
Flux Magazine Spring Issue 2011 (Second place winner, feature writing, 2011 National Hearst Journalism Awards)
In December, the waters of the North Pacific Ocean kill quickly. It begins almost immediately. The cold constricts arteries in the extremities and prevents blood from flowing into them. This keeps warm blood concentrated in vital organs, but it renders the muscles of the human body useless. Fingers become decorative twigs and arms grow heavier like cement branches until they can no longer be lifted. The cold starves once-powerful muscles of oxygen until they become dead weight, with nothing to stop them from sinking beneath the black ocean waters.
Thron Riggs had only been in the water a few seconds before he began to feel the effects of the cold on his body. He was wearing a float coat equipped with several safety devices: self-inflation, a strobe light, and a GPS homing beacon. But as if some god of chance had purposely stacked the deck against him, all three of them failed. Read more


LEAP OF FAITH
Flux Magazine Spring Issue 2011 (A personal essay)

Troy Fry opened the helicopter door to reveal an endless expanse of gray-blue ocean. He leaned out through the opening and looked down, assessing something below. We dropped in altitude.

I took pictures with my right hand and tightened my seatbelt with my left. This was my first helicopter flight and it was over the icy waters of Oregon’s Columbia River bar–also called The Graveyard of the Pacific.

I was reporting on a feature story for Flux Magazine, a student publication and labor of love for journalism students at the University of Oregon. This was my second term on Flux, but my most ambitious story yet. When I pitched the idea in class, I had no idea what I had set in motion. But there I was, heart pounding, eyes wide, and shutter snapping. I sat in the company of amazing people doing impossible things, and it was my job to tell their story.

The helicopter blades whirred, the wind slapped at my face, and the salty air stung my nostrils. Fry’s silhouette was framed in the open helicopter door against a breathtaking backdrop of ocean. It felt as though I was watching this unfold on a movie screen. But I surged back into reality where I felt more alive, connected, and present than during any other time in my existence.

To my left, I looked down at the Wadi Alkarnak, a blue and white cargo ship the size of the Washington Monument that looked deceptively small on the surface of the North Pacific waters. A Columbia River bar pilot had just steered the vessel from the mouth of the river into the open ocean across one of the most dangerous river bars on the planet. His job was complete and he was waiting for us. The helicopter was his ride home.

* * * * * * * * * *

Five years ago, I was sitting in a small office in Cincinnati, Ohio, working for one of the world’s largest shipping and logistics companies. I’d been there for nine years, having worked my way up from package loader to human resources supervisor. The voicemail light on my phone always flashed and my email inbox was filled with unread messages. The managers who added work to my already full plate seldom spoke to each other.

I didn’t hate my job, not by a long shot. It had provided me with nine of the most educational and rewarding years of my life. It challenged me, forced me out of comfort zones, and helped me realize I can do and be whatever I want. The problem was all the boxes.

Every meeting and lunch conversation was about boxes: how many we shipped; where they were going; how not to damage them; how long they were in transit; how many could be put on a truck in four hours; and how employees could avoid being bitten by dogs while delivering them. Boxes, boxes, boxes.

I wanted them to be important, I did. I would remind myself that they were vital to the global economy, provided jobs, and might contain a deeply personal letter making its way home. I once heard a story about a box saving a life because it had important medical supplies inside. That was important, wasn’t it?

But my lack of enthusiasm for boxes had a much deeper meaning. While my career was rewarding, I had ignored my drive for creativity, adventure, and spiritual fulfillment. I loved photography and writing, but had labeled them as hobbies and pushed them away. Because my job did not include what my spirit yearned, the boxes would always seem empty.

My girlfriend could see that I was neglecting important aspects of my nature and she encouraged me to follow my true passion. She was a star chart, a compass, and a lighthouse.

But the realization that boxes were not going to meet my career needs for another twenty-five years was frightening. I was earning a great living, received annual bonuses in company stock, and had a safe and certain path into the future. But safety and certainty weren’t bringing me happiness, so I quit.

Some people shook their heads when I told them. “You have a great job,” they’d say, “Why on earth would you leave it? Don’t you make good money?”

And sometimes I’d ask myself the same questions and feel overwhelmed with self-doubt. I would ask myself if it was really worth the risk. But ultimately, with no concrete plans in place and the echo of uncertainty ringing in my head, we sold our house, gave away our belongings, and moved across the country to Eugene, Oregon.

* * * * * * * * * *

The helicopter approached the Wadi Alkarnak and moved over its deck in small, abrupt movements. Fry, still looking down through the open door, crackled instructions to the helicopter pilot through our radio headsets. He was helping him center the helicopter above the landing pad–a moving target–directly beneath us.

“Down– right two– forward– forward– down,” crackled Fry’s voice.

“Are we centered?” asked the pilot.

“You’re centered. You’re centered,” Fry responded.

As the helicopter touched down, I looked past Fry and watched eruptions of white spray emanating from the bow as the vessel collided with North Pacific swells. Seconds later, the bar pilot who had guided the vessel across the bar appeared on the helipad and crouched beneath the deafening blades as he approached. He climbed in, fastened his seatbelt, and gave me a nod as I snapped his picture.

As we lifted off and began pulling away from the deck of the ship, I experienced a profound surge of realization: I was a passenger on this spectacular adventure, but I had made the adventure possible. These brave people had allowed me to participate in their extraordinary lives, but I had sought them out. Five years earlier, when I chose truth and passion over safety and security, I started down a road of self-discovery that led to this moment.

It was a moment that solidified my passion for journalism and storytelling, and it affirmed and validated every difficult decision I had made. In my quest for happiness and fulfillment, I’d left an office building in Cincinnati, moved across the country, and ultimately decided to continue my education.

I found the University of Oregon, the School of Journalism and Communication, and Flux Magazine. I discovered that big risks lead to incredible possibilities and that exciting new futures await those who choose to find them.