By Melissa Simon
Watch Samantha Wade's interview on YouTube (click above).
Wade's is the first in our "BUILDing Future Researchers" series highlighting BUILD scholars who graduated in the Class of 2022.
Growing up in a whaling community in rural Alaska, Samantha Wade was surrounded by the sound of ocean waves crashing onto the shores and hearing the calls of whales.
She would often spend her time picking local berries or exploring the natural beauty that surrounded her, including taking in the views from the “purple place”—a cliff covered in purple flowers overlooking a lagoon that was particularly beautiful in the summer when the sun hardly sets.
Her passion for science was ignited while attending STEM summer camps as a young girl, where she learned how climate change was impacting not only her hometown, but the Arctic as a whole.
Seeing firsthand the lack of healthcare in her hometown of Wainwright—an underserved, mostly Indigenous community of Iñupiat people on the northernmost coast of Alaska with a population of around 500—is what inspired Wade to pursue a career in science.
That spark stayed with her throughout her undergraduate years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), where she participated in the Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLaST) research program funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
As a BLaST scholar, Wade had two main areas of research: studying the effects Arctic microbes have on a warming climate from three different layers of soil in Utqiaġvik, Alaska; and looking at the impact contaminated soil has on One Health issues and evaluating the effectiveness of the product Micro-Blaze®, which manufacturers claim can bioremediate diesel contaminated soil.
“Climate change has been impacting my community with coastal erosion and studying the effects that microbes have in the soil and in the environment is important for research,” said Wade, who recently graduated from UAF with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences.
Wade said that BLaST prepared her for a biomedical research career by helping her hone research skills and make lasting connections with other students.
She said she’s also grateful for the guidance she received from her mentors: Linda Nicholas-Figueroa, PhD, associate professor of biology and chemistry at Ilisaġvik College; Mary Beth Leigh, PhD, professor of microbiology & arts-humanities-science integration at UAF; and Natalia Podlutskaya, former BLaST Research Advising & Mentoring Professional (RAMP) at UAF.
“Without BLaST, I don't think that I would have any research skills that I have today . . . and I think it's just a great addition to my resume, especially for applying for medical school,” Wade said.
Wade said that sometimes she struggled with feeling like she belonged in the scientific community because she didn’t see many scientists who shared her background.
“As an Indigenous woman, I felt that women in general aren't really represented in science,” Wade said. “Indigenous peoples have been historically underrepresented in the STEM fields.”
However, BLaST helped Wade feel more secure in her science identity and become confident in her ability as a researcher.
“It was a challenge for me to believe that I was making a difference, making an impact in the scientific community,” she said. “[But] I just kept persevering, moving forward with my research and I just tried to stay positive and know that what I was doing is actually making a difference in research and in my community.”
While she hasn’t yet been published, Wade said she completed her capstone project titled “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Micro-Blaze® in Bioremediating Diesel-Contaminated Soil Collected in Rural Alaska,” which was one of her biggest accomplishments.
Her other achievements include being named the BLaST Scientist of the Month in February 2022 and presenting at the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Conference in San Francisco in 2019. Wade’s presentation for the 2019 conference was titled “Arctic Microbes: Tracking population changes with a warming climate baseline study.”
“I felt then [at the conference] that I was truly contributing to research and to science,” she said.
Asked what advice she would give to students interested in pursuing a career in the biomedical research fields, Wade said to apply to summer camps with programs that pique their interest.
“It’s a great experience [and the ones] I attended, even for just a week or two weeks, really impacted my life and made me want to pursue a career in science,” she said.
With her time as a BLaST scholar now behind her, Wade said she’s excited for the next phase of her journey.
She is one of 12 students selected for the Wy’East Medical Pathway, which is a program designed to help American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) scholars thrive along their biomedical career journeys.
In the fall, Wade will attend Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), where she will be studying topics such as Indigenous health and wellness, population health and epidemiology, and will also do clinical shadowing.
Her future research interests include topics such as cancer, health disparities in Alaska and climate change.
“What I love most about being a scientist is that I'm representing Indigenous people and promoting Indigenous people in science and in the health field. And I believe that my work . . . is helping my community and my people,” Wade said.
Note: Samantha Wade’s story is the first in a new video series called “BUILDing Future Researchers: 2022 Graduates Share Their Stories,” about recent BUILD graduates. Read all the stories from the series here in the DPC Newsletter Volume 7, Issue 3.
(A poem by Samantha Wade)
I am from the sound of airplanes flying above
Where snowbirds chant their songs of love
A place you can hear the tiniest waves crashing
From anywhere in Wainwright
I am from the taste of sea salt when you’re driving along the ocean
A place you know all the dirt roads by heart
Even if you were blindfolded
I am from a place of community gatherings and Nalukataq whaling feasts
Where everything is passed along by the sound of familiar voices
A place where my Aaka’s tuttu soup never tasted any better
Where Eskimo donuts seem as if they are always cooking on the stove
I am from a place of pitch black winters
Where the sound of the wind howls in the negative forty degree weather
A place where the sun doesn’t ever set in the summer
Wainwright is my Home
SPAD & DPC DaTA
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.