Dr. LaJoyce Debro is 2012 William A. Hinton Research Training Award Laureate

Dr. LaJoyce Debro is 2012 William A. Hinton Research Training Award Laureate


From Microbe magazine (Vol. 7, Number 2)

LaJoyce Debro, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, Jacksonville State University, is the 2012 William A. Hinton Research Training Award laureate. "For more than 40 years, Debro has been an outstanding educator, " says her nominator, Ellen Neidle from the University of Georgia.

This award, given in memory of William A. Hinton-- a physician-research scientist and one of the first African-Americans to join the ASM-- honors outstanding contributions toward fostering the research training of under-represented minorities in microbiology. "She has had an impact on hundreds of students," says Benjie Blair, Jacksonville State University. "She is highly respected for her depth of knowledge and dedication in teaching and research. "

Debro grew up in Clarksdale, Miss., and received her B.A. in Biology from Spelman College. She went on to receive her M.S. from Atlanta University (now Clark-Atlanta), and her Ph.D. in Biology with a concentration in Microbiology from Purdue University. Before working at Jacksonville State University, she instructed at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Miss., Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., and Miles College in Birmingham, Ala.-- all historical black colleges. Debro's current instructional responsibilities at Jacksonville State University are in general biology, microbiology, genetics, and molecular biology. She is committed to the instruction of biology as a process, and engages her students in undergraduate research both through scheduled class laboratories and independent study projects. Recently, Debro joined the Science Education Alliance of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and is engaging classes of beginning students in investigations on mycobacteriophage diversity that involve the purification, characterization, and genome analyses of environmental isolates.

Debro views her motivation and dedication to her students as the natural outcome of the special interest her teachers and professors showed in her as a student. It was these teachers and professors who encouraged her to pursue a doctorate in biology. As a result, Debro strives to enhance the educational experiences of her students by showing a personal interest in them and ensuring that they recognize that they have the power to excel beyond their own expectations. She spends countless hours mentoring, motivating, and providing individualized instruction to her students, who then become increasingly independent and responsible for their own learning. “Debro lies in Birmingham and is the first to admit that she chooses to live near her family and drive an hour each way to JSU in order to work with rural students (including many minorities). She has shown more dedication than anyone I can imagine in pursuit of this goal,” says Blair.

Debro holds to the tenet that “A child can’t be what a child can’t see,” and works to broaden the vision of her students by extending their campus experiences to include summer research positions at research-intensive institutions. She also encourages her students to participate in research conferences, including ASM’s Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).

Debro’s mentoring extends beyond the students under her direct tutelage to include protégés enrolled in Ph.D. programs as well as young professionals working to secure tenure. She had the opportunity to influence lives and careers from a different perspectives by serving as a Program Director in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF) while on a leave of absences from her faculty position (2007-2009). At NSF she was dedicated to promoting research careers and activities for faculty mentors and their students, and was honored with the Director’s Equal Opportunity Achievement Award for her diligence in developing effective activities to enhance diversity in the reviewers and awardees within her cluster and in the biological sciences overall. Susanne von Bodman, a former colleague from NSF, stated: “I am grateful for her sound and insightful scientific judgment, her collegial and supportive nature, and her ongoing willingness to help with all aspects of the merit review process. Debro is a team player whose efforts to build an inclusive scientific community are impressive, successful, and contagious.

According to Debro, her proudest professional achievements are not her publications, presentations, awarded grants, or lab experiments. Instead she is proudest of her successes in promoting young maturing scientists whose lives and careers she has influenced. “For her many contributions, Debro richly deserves recognition,” summarizes Neidle.

About the photo: Dr. LaJoyce Debro (Steve Latham/JSU photo)