After watching a YouTube video about the USC School of Pharmacy, Cedona Watts was convinced that she should leave her hometown of Huntsville, Ala. and head west to Trojan town. Now entering her fourth year as a Pharm.D. candidate, Watts credits her USC education for the multitude of fellowships, scholarships and awards she’s received.
“That one YouTube video really inspired me,” said Watts, who graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and biological sciences. “I saw the dean and the different faculty in the video. Their message was to increase diversity within the pharmacy profession, and the other important things were the opportunities to do research and dual degrees.”
During her first year at USC, she was able to put her interest in oncology research to work when she earned the Dean’s Pharm.D. Summer Research Fellowship. Working in a lab with Stan Louie, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and pharmaceutical economics and policy at USC, they researched “triple-negative” breast cancer, a kind of breast cancer resistant to hormonal therapies, and how it affects women of African or Latin descent. Watts was awarded a second summer fellowship and chose to continue doing research in Louie’s lab.
That research attracted national attention when her paper about a new strategy to target inflammation in triple negative breast cancer and colon cancer won first place in a contest hosted by the National Black Graduate Student Association.
“Cedona is an extraordinary student. It is her ability to work with others and personal tenacity that has allowed her to accomplish her research objectives,” Stan Louie said.
He isn’t the only one who thinks Watts is extraordinary. The National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Md., named her one of its 2013 summer cancer research fellows. Watts is currently spending 10 weeks at the institute researching gene expression and translocation.
“I’m so excited to represent USC and pharmacy students,” Watts said. “I wanted to see how I could increase my research experience in oncology. The National Cancer Institute has something specifically for students who are underrepresented to get experience in cancer research.”
When she returns from Maryland, Watts will again pack her bags and head to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Washington, D.C. to do research for six weeks in the Office of Clinical Pharmacology.
She also has a pharmacy internship at City of Hope National Medical Center.
With numerous scholarships and fellowships under her belt — including the 2013 USC Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education Travel Grants Program, 25th Annual NBGSA Conference Fellow, William Lawson Jr. Memorial Scholarship, Walgreens Diversity & Inclusion Excellence Scholarship, Dolly Harris Endowed Scholarship, and Joyce and Harold Washington Endowed Scholarship — Watts is driven to accomplish more.
“I was born in Jamaica, and my family always taught me hard work. So I just want to keep working hard and make the faculty proud. To me, there really is a Trojan Family because I think of them when I’m studying, when I’m doing things, during success and failures.”
In the fall, Thomas, Watts’ husband of nine years, will also join the Trojan Family to pursue a master’s degree in public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “We don’t have children yet,” said Watts, “but we definitely want them to be Trojans.”