Aspiring Forensic Toxicologist Earns Chemistry Degree in Three Years

Posted May 04, 2022, 3:40PM

When Olesia Headen arrived at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in fall 2019, she had already earned an associate’s degree in science education. And, on May 6, 2022, she will have achieved her bachelor’s degree in chemistry within three short years.

“As a graduate of an early college high school in a rural North Carolina town, I always knew I wanted to attend an historically Black college or university,” Headen said.

For Headen, a Cheatham-White Merit Scholar, NCCU was the perfect fit. The Cheatham-White Scholarship Program provides a fully funded four-year scholarship that covers full tuition and fees, additional expenses and four summers of enrichment and networking opportunities.

“NCCU had the ideal family atmosphere,” she said. “The university’s faculty and staff were very supportive and provided the attention I needed even when I was a prospective student.”

The university also provided unique hands-on learning experiences for the aspiring forensic toxicologist, which included access to the Society of Toxicology organization and their annual conference where she would meet a mentor, and connect with different companies and internships.

“As a result of the resources at NCCU, I applied and I received an internship with the U.S. Department of Justice working in a federal forensics crime lab,” said Headen. “The intersection of law and science is appealing to me and my lab experience confirmed that I was on the right path in terms of wanting to become a forensic toxicologist.”

In addition to her academic studies, Headen is a member of the University Honors Program, Ronald E. McNair Scholar Program, S.A.A.M.E and NCCU Queen in You student organization. She also serves as a PREM Research fellow.

She credits NCCU faculty and staff for preparing her for the opportunities received thus far.

“I am extremely thankful for my professors and university staff who guided me along the way, including Dr. Antonio Baines, my toxicology mentor; Dr. Nate Wymer, former university faculty member, who served as my research adviser; and Christina Garett, associate director of University Scholars, who assisted with internships and anything else I needed,” Headen shared.

In fall 2022, she will continue her academic journey in the Master of Professional Studies in Forensic Science program at Penn State University with the goal of one-day working a crime lab.

“My advice for future and current Eagles is to remember your ‘why.’ I wanted to quit at times but I kept the faith, surrounded myself with wise friends and family and didn’t give up.”

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