Suchitra Nelson's dedication to advancing oral health in children was recognized during a recent White House ceremony. The Case Western Reserve University dental researcher, faculty member and alumna received the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering.
This award is one of the nation's highest honors a scientist or engineer in the early stages of their career can receive. The honorees were selected by the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
"It was a surprise," said Nelson, associate professor in the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. She received a formal letter inviting her to the White House and a National Institutes of Health reception December 19 as part of the recognition.
Nelson, who could bring two guests to the ceremony, was accompanied by her brother and a niece. "It is important for young girls to know that they can be successful if they choose to work hard," said the honoree.
Earlier this year, Nelson learned from a program official at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research that the organization was nominating her for an award.
"I had no idea what this award was," she said.
Several months ago, she received a letter from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which advises the President on the domestic and international impact of science and technology, for a background check.
"At first, I thought it was someone trying to get identity information," said Nelson. After a quick check with the Office of the University Attorney, she was encouraged to respond. She did not hear from the OSTP until two weeks ago with the announcement of the award.
Nelson began her career path as a student at the university. She began work at the dental school in 1991 and officially became a faculty member in 1996.
Currently she has several research projects underway.
Her NIDCR-funded research on dental caries in low-birth weight babies is a longitudinal study that follows the children's oral health as they grow.
She also has a Health Resources and Service Administration-funded clinical trial of the use of xylitol in reducing dental cavities in school children. Children receive gummy bear-like candy with sugar-free xylitol to see if it improves oral health.
In addition to her research, Nelson acknowledges the mentorship under Peter Milgrom from the University of Washington as critical in her success. "He is an equal recipient of this honor. It is important to recognize that behind every successful faculty is a truly successful and exemplary mentor," said Nelson.
Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.