It was during summers as an undergraduate while living in a small cottage on the property of immigrant engineering professor Antoni Oppenheim that this year’s E.E. Just Award winner JoAnn Trejo’s passion for science was fostered. Oppenheim’s mentoring—and certainly Trejo’s own strength and gumption—propelled her to success.
The youngest of five children in a family of migrant workers, Trejo was raised by a single mother with little education. Yet she has gone on to make a host of novel discoveries about the regulation of receptor signaling and trafficking by G-protein–coupled receptors in the context of endothelial cell dysfunction and breast cancer progression. In 2015 she was appointed the Associate Dean for Health Sciences Faculty Affairs at the University of California, San Diego, where she is also a professor. There she has developed and implemented strategies for creating an inclusive environment and for the recruitment, retention, and development of diverse faculty.
ASCB’s E.E. Just Award is named for Earnest Everett Just (1883–1941), a brilliant biologist who made numerous landmark discoveries in fertilization and embryo morphogenesis. At the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole he was seen as the expert in marine embryo culture and development. Nevertheless, Just could not be appointed to the faculty of most universities because he was African-American. While she is honored to receive this award, Trejo notes that such barriers persist today. She explains that “studies have shown that many aspiring women and underrepresented scientists fail to meet educational institutions’ normalized standards of merit” and are thereby denied access to these institutions. Trejo believes that “education [is] a route to a different life,” but the United States needs to redefine merit so we can attract the most promising scientists from an array of backgrounds.
Learn more about Just and Trejo’s work at the E.E. Just Award Lecture at the 2017 ASCB|EMBO Meeting on Sunday, December 3, at 11:00 am.