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The Sky is the Limit When it Comes to Mathematics: Dionne Price

posted Jul 8, 2010, 7:11 PM by Glenna Buford   [ updated Jul 8, 2010, 7:13 PM by AWM Editor ]

2002 AWM Essay Contest:
Honorable Mention in College Category

By Megan McKinney

When your parents repeatedly tell you that you can be anything that you want to be and provide you with love and moral support, it is almost impossible to not follow your dreams. This was the case with Dionne Price. Dionne consistently received this advice while growing up in a very close knit African-American family.

While Dionne’s immediate family is fairly typical, consisting of her mom, her dad, and her older brother, she has a rather large extended family. Her mother is one of nine children, and her father is one of ten children, providing numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. Although both of her grandparents from her mother’s side have passed away, both of her grandparents from her father’s side round off the large family tree. Dionne comes from a very proud and loving family with a strong spiritual foundation. Throughout her life, she has received enormous support from her family, especially during her graduate education.

Growing up, Dionne often imitated her teachers and her mother, who is now a retired teacher. Dionne spent a lot of time in her room, using her chalkboard to teach her stuffed animals, typically math. Dionne attended Portsmouth Public Schools until grade 12. After graduating from high school, she attended Norfolk State University (NSU) in Norfolk, VA. The application process was not easy, however. She was a little confused about what she wanted to major in. Although she had always liked math and was fairly good at it, Dionne also liked learning about the body and about medicine. After learning of the shortage of minorities in mathematics, she decided that would be her major. She chose this major with hopes of one day serving as a role model and being able to share her enjoyment of math with others. As an undergraduate, Dionne was an applied math major. She was also a student in the Dozoretz National Institute for Minorities in Applied Sciences, which was a program designed to raise the number of minorities in the sciences. Throughout college, she pursued numerous summer internships. These included interning at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The most inspiring of these internships was the National Institutes of Health. This internship gave Dionne her first exposure to biostatistics, which she found she truly loved. The field allowed her to use math to solve medical and biological problems. Because of this internship, she decided to further pursue a career in biostatistics. After graduating from NSU, Dionne attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, where she studied biostatistics. She then went to Emory University in Atlanta, GA where she obtained a doctorate in biostatistics in December of 2000. After graduate school, Dionne accepted a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA consists of a number of different centers, one of which is the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), where Dionne works. The mission of the CDER is to ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs/medicine for the American people. During the drug development process, a company will submit to the FDA a New Drug Application, which is a document consisting of volumes of information. The document essentially gives a thorough account of the drug development process. Dionne’s main focus is on the designs of experiments or clinical trails. She must determine if the studies that the company conducted answer the hypotheses of interest. She uses statistics to analyze or re-analyze data that has been collected from the studies. Also, Dionne offers statistical advice to companies seeking it from the FDA. When it is determined that the statistics employed are appropriate and properly applied, Dionne makes a decision regarding the evidence provided. Based on her findings, along with those of doctors, chemists, and others, the drug is approved for marketing or, not approved. This process contains a lot of teamwork, and when Dionne has questions or concerns, she has great supervisors who are willing to assist her. Daily, she attends meetings, reviews new drug applications, reviews protocols, which may be submitted prior to submission of a new drug application, and she attends seminars. While reviewing drug applications, Dionne gets the chance to learn more about medicine and biology, which helps her when looking at other drug applications. She is continuously learning new things, while applying her statistical skills, writing skills, and oral communication skills. Her favorite part of her job is knowing that she is making a difference, or a contribution, in the lives of many Americans who are suffering from different conditions that require medication.

Although Dionne received tremendous family support, one obstacle that she faced was the belief that she had in herself when entering graduate school. As an undergraduate at a historically African-American university with moderate enrollment, she was surrounded with familiar faces and support. Entering graduate school was a different story. At UNC, they have one of the highest rated graduate programs in biostatistics in the country, and Dionne was competing against students from the nation's so called best schools. She had low confidence, but she decided that she deserved to be there and that she was just as good in her skills as the other students. She did, however, endure negative comments from others, but she used the comments as fuel to prove them wrong. Eventually, she received respect from her peers. The same situation occurred at Emory, where she was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in biostatistics.

Dionne is currently achieving her hopes of being a role model for young women. However, she feels that being a role model is an ongoing process that must occur everyday by maintaining the personal standards that one has set for themselves and by continuing to pursue any goals or dreams that have not yet been reached. Although she is very proud of what she has already accomplished, she does not believe in "resting on one’s prior accomplishments."

In her free time, Dionne enjoys spending time with her friends and family. This may include a family dinner, a night of games with her brother and his family, or a fishing trip on her parents’ boat. She enjoys reading, especially mystery books, and teaching introductory level statistics classes at Trinity College in the District of Columbia. Dionne also enjoys tennis and playing her keyboard.

According to Dionne, "Mathematics can open up doors of opportunities unimagined. The sky is the limit, and I urge students interested in mathematics to go for it!!!"

About the author: My name is Megan McKinney. I am currently a junior at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, PA. I was born in Ellwood City, PA. I am majoring in mathematics with a special interest area in actuary science, and minors in statistics and economics. I am currently the vice-president of the math club and am a member of Kappa Mu Epsilon. I chose to write this essay because I am inspired by the strength that some women must have to make it in a mathematical career.