Letter: Dear Dr. Jacqueline Tanaka

A student thanks a professor for guiding in through the process of finding his career path.

Senior biology major Tyrell Mann-Barnes wrote an essay to Dr. Jacqueline Tanaka, a biology professor, who personally mentored him throughout his undergraduate years at Temple. | DYLAN LONG / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Dear Dr. Jacqueline Tanaka,

As a biology major at Temple University, I have been privileged to learn a variety of subjects in a variety of spaces. 

In the classroom, professors lectured me on literary analysis and hormonal regulation, which furthered my understanding of course material. 

Outside the classroom, mentors taught me intangible skills, like analytical thinking and relentless focus, that furthered my ability to promote diversity and inclusion in my future profession. 

Dr. Jacqueline Tanaka, a biology professor and director of the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research Scholars program, is one mentor who taught me these things. Although I never had Dr. Tanaka as a course instructor, she unequivocally dedicated herself to helping me discover my path to success.

I often compare the guidance I received from Dr. Tanaka to the production of diamonds, which form after years of immense pressure. Like many things, finding diamonds takes work, dedication and commitment. Dr. Tanaka put in this effort for me. 

I met Dr. Tanaka at the beginning of my tenure as Student Body President. A close friend of mine had just joined MARC, and I wanted to join, too. However, Dr. Tanaka was not so quick to admit me to the program. She heard how much I already had on my plate including being president of TSG, vice president of Student Activists Against Sexual Assault and a resident assistant, and immediately turned down my interest for applying Spring 2017. 

The following semester, I reconnected with Dr. Tanaka. I had just completed a winter session course called AIDS and Society, which I felt had enlightened my trajectory. The course enabled me, for the first time in my undergraduate career, to see connections between social policy and epidemiology. I sent Dr. Tanaka an email about this experience, also telling her my fears, discoveries and long-term dreams. She replied that she would do everything she could to help me accomplish my goals.

She did.

Dr. Tanaka helped place me in the lab of Dr. Tricia Burdo at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine to study HIV and chronic inflammation. She also helped me continue my research interests post grad by connecting me with my future employer. Following graduation, I will be conducting research that aims to build community and improve patient outcomes at Katz’s Center for Asian Health under the direction of Dr. Grace Ma. This will allow me to work on projects that aim to improve the quality of life for members of the North Philadelphia community and beyond.

Working with Dr. Tanaka and MARC fine-tuned my skills as a scientist-in-training while simultaneously giving me new ones, like the ability to promote diversity and inclusion in my workplace. Without Dr. Tanaka, I doubt these opportunities in research would have existed for me. 

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Dr. Tanaka, thank you for making me, and the other students you’ve touched, feel that our dreams are attainable. Thank you for creating spaces that challenged me and allowed me to grow. You are an agent of change, and I am thankful for your existence and guidance.

As we both leave Temple — I to my career and you to Yale, where you will be teaching and promoting access for underrepresented communities in biomedical science, I have no doubt that you will continue to be a light for so many more individuals. You will be dearly missed.

-Tyrell Mann-Barnes

Senior biology major 

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