Congratulations to Sara Jane Ahmed '12, who just received one of this year's Climate Breakthrough Awards! #Kn...
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Major in Biology
What have you been doing since graduating from Knox?
I lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I worked for The Center for Courageous Kids, which is an amazing nonprofit I fell in love with while working with them in college. I completely fell in love with the people and the mission, and they offered me a job after I graduated. I then lived in Nashville, where I met my wonderful husband. We moved back to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2017, which was when I started at TriCore Reference Laboratories.
Tell us about your work at TriCore. How did you end up there? What did you do?
My husband actually encouraged me to apply for a job there when we first moved to New Mexico. I was extremely hesitant because I had only worked in nonprofits since graduation, nothing science-related. But after a few interviews, I started as a laboratory assistant in the infectious disease department. I immediately knew that this field was for me. With the assistance of highly skilled laboratory scientist mentors, after nine months, I was promoted to a clinical laboratory technologist in the infectious disease department. This is a fancy way of saying I worked with real-time samples testing bacteria and viruses to deliver results to providers for them to prescribe the best forms of treatment to their patients. After a while, I moved over to the TriCore Research Institute. My role there was very different from the clinical side I came from, but I absolutely loved it. My job was to perform device and diagnostic instrument testing to assist each industry sponsor with receiving FDA [Food and Drug Administration] approval for their assay. I worked under the guidance of Dr. Steve Young and alongside some of the most brilliant scientists in New Mexico.
How has your work been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am considered a frontline worker and as a result, I am the one testing the samples that are collected and directly informing patients of their condition. I was actually recruited by a local lab to help start a molecular laboratory focused on testing COVID samples. I was eager to help as much as I could with the pandemic and was splitting my time between doing research on COVID and testing real-life samples, usually working six days a week. COVID also made me realize that I wanted to help on a larger scale in the medical science field. I recently just accepted a quality control microbiologist role with Albany Molecular Research Inc.
What has your experience been like as a Black woman in your field? What advice would you give to young women, especially women of color, looking to join a STEM field?
Being a Black woman in this field has been the most empowering experience I have ever had in my life. It has opened my eyes to so many other women who are truly leading the STEM field around the world. My experience has been special and unique in that I have not had to yet jump over hurdles set before me simply because I am a Black female. I do, however, know that those obstacles have a very high probability of appearing as I advance in my field. When I feel anxious about the future or feel like I do not belong, I always remind myself that so many people of color have fought and lost their lives for me to be in the position I am in today and we carry their strength within us. We deserve every good thing that has been set aside for us to achieve and no one can stop us from getting it. I think that is something every young person of color needs to carry around with them. And to all of the young women of color who want to join the STEM field, we need your unique talents and gifts.
Describe a favorite memory from your time at Knox.
I have so many good memories from Knox! I would say my favorite would be joining my sorority Delta Delta Delta and all of the work we did for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Why is Knox important to you?
It’s difficult to convey the importance of Knox in my life. I get very emotional when I think about all my parents did to send me to college there. I am a first-generation college graduate. I do not come from a wealthy family with an account that was created solely for my college education. My parents could not afford for me to go to Knox, but they knew how imperative it was for me to get an education from such a prestigious school. I can never truly thank them enough for everything they did and continue to do for me to have the life I have now. Although I struggled with being homesick, seasonal depression (that I didn’t know was a thing because I grew up in the desert), and getting grades other than As, I made it after four years with a bachelor’s in biology. Although I am proud of my degree, I am even more thankful for the countless life skills that Knox taught me. Going to a college that values critical thinking, individuality, diversity, and the freedom to flourish has made me into the person I am today.