LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 23, 2020) — Cagney Coomer has three large achievements underneath her belt: She earned a doctorate in biology from the University of Kentucky in the College of Arts and Sciences; she began a nonprofit to encourage children to pursue science and expertise; and her analysis unlocked the secrets and techniques of two genes within the eye — the topic of her dissertation.
“I studied two genes that had been studied in different organs however their perform within the retina was unknown,” stated Coomer, who defended her work in July. “I discovered they’re concerned in photoreceptor upkeep, survival and regeneration.”
And with that, Coomer superior humanity’s data of genes and the attention, underneath the steering of her dissertation advisor, Ann C. Morris, affiliate professor of biology.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Dr. Coomer over the previous six years,” Morris stated. “She has produced a formidable physique of analysis throughout her Ph.D., and he or she is relentlessly curious and enthusiastic about developmental biology and genetics. She is enthusiastic about encouraging younger folks from underrepresented teams to consider of their potential, and he or she is herself a profitable position mannequin for these college students, as she demonstrates every single day her enthusiasm and dedication to a profession in scientific analysis.”
Coomer, a Lexington native, earned her bachelor’s diploma from Virginia State College and spent six years as a doctoral scholar at UK. Her analysis concerned utilizing the high-tech tools on the college to check genetics, particularly regenerations, improvement and genetic illnesses. As well as, she has labored on sequencing initiatives on the Superior Genetic Know-how Heart core facility.
“I needed to get a Ph.D. so I might be a analysis scientist,” she stated. “After I first utilized for my Ph.D., I had an curiosity in genetics and developmental biology, however I didn’t have a selected curiosity in retinal eye illnesses. Then I began to understand that, personally, I took my very own imaginative and prescient without any consideration, and I started to empathize with individuals who have visible impairment or blindness. I used to be like, ‘Whoa — that’s such an vital factor to take without any consideration.’ So I made a decision to pursue that analysis.”
Alongside together with her classwork and analysis at UK, she labored as a instructing assistant and as a mentor with the school’s residential STEMCats program. Most just lately, she led a BIO 199 lab for STEMCats that checked out genetic mutant evaluation of zebrafish. She loved working with undergraduates, main them by means of investigations involving the phenotypes present in mutant zebrafish.
“I cherished being the TA,” she stated. “I cherished giving college students an opportunity to suppose up initiatives and get one thing out of actual analysis and experiments in addition to studying expertise like find out how to work with microscopes. Now we have them take the microscopes aside and put them again collectively, all the essential issues.”
Coomer discovered her calling at an early age.
“Truthfully, I needed to be a scientist since I used to be 8,” she stated. “Over the course of my years I labored with vegetation and I labored in fields. I lastly received an opportunity to work with mannequin organism that had been related to human illnesses — that was my actual curiosity.”
And her mother and father are elated at her achievements.
“My household thinks it’s the best factor ever,” she stated. “My mother tells prefect strangers I’m her physician daughter each likelihood she will get. And my dad — he cries simply randomly when he talks about how completely satisfied he’s.”
Even earlier than she began her doctoral program, Coomer determined she needed to offer one thing again to her neighborhood. She began the NERD SQUAD, a nonprofit group in Lexington that encourages women of coloration to change into all for STEM fields.
“I typically was the one Black lady in my lessons, and I’d ask why I used to be the one one,” she stated. “Folks would say folks of coloration weren’t all for science. So I made a decision to exit into the neighborhood to get children — you may’t get all for one thing you’re not uncovered to.”
As a part of this system Coomer and her volunteers host weekly STEM-related actions that “make the children suppose and ask questions.” Not too long ago, Coomer got here up with an exercise that grabbed the women’ curiosity.
“We turned the women into beauty chemists,” she stated. “We had them take a look at the science behind making completely different soaps and lotions, eye liner and different issues. We had them make their very own beauty merchandise and provide you with their very own beauty line.”
In 2017, Coomer obtained the citizen’s Sullivan Medallion, the very best award UK presents for humanitarian efforts, for her contributions in forming NERD Squad. She can be the recipient of a UK Inclusive Excellence Award. Past UK, Coomer was awarded the 2018 Multicultural Alternatives, Methods, and Institutional Inclusiveness Convention (MOSAIIC) Award, and he or she was the recipient of the 2017 Neighborhood Service Award on the Ladies of Shade in STEM convention. She additionally obtained the 2018 MLK Management Award from the Kentucky MLK Fee.
As Coomer leaves Lexington, she seems to be ahead to beginning a post-doctoral stint at Dartmouth learning the variations between the fitting and left lobes of the mind. She hopes her time at UK will depart a legacy for different ladies of coloration to observe in her footsteps.
“I hope I did make an affect,” she stated. “I hope I had some affect on how issues are applied in our division — how they function, how they perform. I additionally hope I influenced their efforts to recruit extra college students and college of coloration.”