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Shelia Parker – Alumna Spotlight

Sheila ParkerSafety, Health & Environmental Manager, US Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service

BS in Biological Science (1990)


When and why did you decide to major in biology?
I loved science in high school and had excellent teachers. I also had an awesome school counselor who painted a beautiful picture of all the opportunities in the biology field. Often, the initial thought is about teaching, which is also a great field because students need inspiring teachers like the ones I encountered in Leland, MS. There are many other opportunities in biology today, including research, pharmacy, regulatory agents, forensics, etc. The world is your oyster with a biology degree from the University of Mississippi.

What were some significant accomplishments or favorite memories at UM?
While at UM, I worked hard and studied long hours. I have great memories inside and outside the classroom, and developed some life-long friendships that are still flourishing today, including through Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Football season was by far my favorite time of the year.  Basically, the University is a beautiful home away from home where many students feel comfortable.

Please tell us about your educational and career path since UM.
After graduating from the University of Mississippi, I secured a job with the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) as a Microbiological Laboratory Technician. I worked in this position for 15 years conducting research and contributing to manuscripts. After 15 years of working at the bench, I became a Safety Specialist for the same agency ensuring the safety of our personnel. After striving in this position for several years, I was promoted to Environmental Protection Specialist which was very interesting and rewarding. I’m currently working as a Safety, Health, and Environmental Manager for USDA-ARS, overseeing safety, health, and environmental matters for 28 facilities spread across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

USDA-ARS has very promising careers for those seeking the research career path. There is such a wide array of areas in research that’s making positive impacts in the world.  Veterinary science, nutrition, immunology, agricultural engineering, hydrology, food safety, and virology are only a few of the many career paths available for those with a biology degree. These research scientists provide new approaches and new technologies needed by consumers, producers, and industry. It’s exciting because so much of the research is on the leading edge of science in highly visible programs with broad public support. Some of the research involves biotechnology, including molecular biology, genetic engineering, bioinformatics, and membrane research; application of theories of artificial intelligence to computer technology; innovative approaches to pest control through insect neurochemistry and use of pheromones. These scientists work in well-equipped, modern laboratories and enjoy collaborating on scientific breakthroughs.

What is the value of studying biology at UM?
Studying biology at the University of Mississippi was no easy task, but it was worth all the long nights of studying. I was well equipped to stand toe to toe with others in the workforce after acquiring my degree from UM. It prepared me for any avenue of science I chose to take. I say to all those seeking a career in science, Ole Miss is dedicated to ensuring you are highly qualified to compete for any career you choose.