Many people hope to see pandas saved from extinction, but few can make a hands-on difference. But Illinois animal sciences graduate Dr. Tameka Phillips has an important impact through her work at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute at Washington, DC’s National Zoological Park.
Tameka’s research focuses on optimizing the female genome for fertility preservation.
“The outcomes of my research will provide translational benefits for both animals and humans that experience fertility issues,” Tameka says. “I also actively participate in veterinary reproductive cases, such as with the giant panda breeding management team.”
Tameka loves working with the zoo collection, but she most enjoys doing community outreach, which includes talking to the public about her research, the animals, and career paths that include animal conservation.
Her foundation in animal sciences and reproduction began at the University of Illinois. Tameka completed summer research projects, spent numerous days palpating animals at the university’s South Farms, and attended conferences to hone her presentation skills.
Growing up in Champaign-Urbana afforded Tameka many opportunities for education and career development. In high school, she participated in U of I summer programs geared toward increasing diversity in agriculture.
“When I walked into my first animal sciences class freshman year, I was prepared,” Tameka says. “It was very obvious visually that the three black students in a class of 120 stood out from the rest of the class—however, having previously spent time on the campus, I was well adjusted to the agricultural environment.”
Over her undergraduate career, professors saw Tameka’s potential and cared enough about her to invest their time into her success. Some of those mentors and teachers are still providing her words of wisdom.
“Having been afforded the guidance of mentors, I have chosen to follow in their footsteps and now give back to the institution that gave so much to me,” Tameka says.