Advancing science, developing community

Image of Eugenia Duodu
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 3:11pm
Lanna Crucefix

On Eugenia Duodu’s Twitter feed – her profile picture tinted a bright sunny yellow – a tweet reads: “Success. I love it.”

The 23-year-old student, who is studying medicinal chemistry at the University of Toronto Mississauga, had another success to celebrate when she was recently awarded the Harry Jerome CIBC Academics Award by the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA).

“It’s so exciting and hugely encouraging. The Harry Jerome Award really demonstrates that I’m making a mark in my research field,” says Duodu. “It’s not just a validation of my work, but of the work others have invested to get me to this point.”

Professor Patrick Gunning, Duodu’s supervisor, was unsurprised at the award announcement. “Not only is Eugenia a lovely person, but she’s incredibly motivated,” he says, pointing out that she has two papers in manuscript in only the second year of her PhD. “She’s determined to make a difference.”

Image of Eugenia working on chemistry equipmentDuodu describes medicinal chemistry as the synthesis of organic molecules that can be used in therapeutics for human disease. Her PhD work is focused on targeting signaling pathways found in cancer that can help eliminate tumours. Having a goal to strive for appeals to her, she says. “You have an end result with this field, a sense that what you do will really make a difference. Our goal is to disrupt cancerous cell growth and create less toxic chemotherapeutics.”

That her academic work has the ultimate goal of improving life for others dovetails neatly with Duodu’s intense passion for community development. “Helping people and helping my community is just something that I do,” she says. “I love working with youth, inspiring their personal development and in turn being inspired by them.”

With her work, Duodu has assisted a group of youth from various Toronto Community Housing (TCH) communities to furnish a library in Ghana as part of the Creating Global Citizens Project (“It was incredible, we even put the books on the shelves”); reviews grants for ArtREACH, an agency that funds youth-based arts initiatives (“Different groups bring their heritage and culture into the art and it is so cool that youth would be artistically inclined that way”); and works with the Toronto Youth Centre, a community outreach service (“It’s giving back to Toronto, to your city”).

She’s also a youth mentor for TCH, and credits her own past TCH mentors with encouraging her early love for science. This is something she’s now passing on through her work with the Visions of Science Network for Learning Inc., a science literacy organization that Duodu says perfectly marries her two passions. “I can talk about science and community development in the same sentence.”

Image of Eugenia by chemistry hoodIt’s this dual fascination that surprises people, especially if she’s known either through her academic work or her community advocacy. “But it’s who I am. I can’t be a chemist without being a community advocate. I want to redefine what it means to be those things.”

If you go back to Duodu’s Twitter feed, you’ll also see: “Humbled. Thankful.”

While she eventually wants to enter a field that will meld both her scientific and community development expertise, Duodu’s ultimate goal is simply to have an impact, not just for herself but to serve as encouragement to others in her community and beyond.

“I want to keep making a positive impact on people locally and globally,” she says. “I want to make my community realize that they can strive for success by setting goals and preparing themselves to meet it. Your potential is only limited by the limits you put on yourself.”