By Alexis Young

PharmD candidate Cedona Watts is researching gene expression and translocation at the Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Md.  Photo/Lillian Insalata

PharmD candidate Cedona Watts is researching gene expression and translocation at the Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Md.
Photo/Lillian Insalata

After watching a YouTube video about the USC School of Pharmacy, Cedona Watts was convinced that she should leave her hometown of Huntsville, Ala., and head west to Trojan town. Now entering her fourth year as a PharmD candidate, Watts credits her USC education for the multitude of fellowships, scholarships and awards she’s received.

“That one YouTube video really inspired me,” said Watts, who graduated from the University of Alabama with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and biological sciences. “I saw the dean and the different faculty in the video. Their message was to increase diversity within the pharmacy profession, and the other important things were the opportunities to do research and dual degrees.”

During her first year at USC, Watts put her interest in oncology research to work as a Dean’s PharmD Summer Research Fellow. Working in a laboratory with Stan Louie, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and pharmaceutical economics and policy at USC, she researched “triple-negative” breast cancer, a kind of breast cancer resistant to hormonal therapies, and how it affects women of African or Latin descent. Watts was awarded a second summer fellowship and chose to continue doing research in Louie’s lab.

That research attracted national attention when her paper about a new strategy to target inflammation in triple-negative breast cancer and colon cancer won first place in a contest hosted by the National Black Graduate Student Association (NBGSA).

“Cedona is an extraordinary student. It is her ability to work with others and personal tenacity that has allowed her to accomplish her research objectives,” Louie said.

Recently named a 2013 summer cancer research fellow by the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Md., Watts is currently spending 10 weeks at the institute researching gene expression and translocation.

“I’m so excited to represent USC and pharmacy students,” she said. “I wanted to see how I could increase my research experience in oncology. The National Cancer Institute has something specifically for students who are underrepresented to get experience in cancer research.”

When she returns from Maryland, Watts will again pack her bags and head east, this time to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C. For six weeks, she will conduct research in the Office of Clinical Pharmacology.

She also holds a pharmacy internship at City of Hope’s National Medical Center.

With numerous scholarships and fellowships under her belt — including the 2013 USC Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education Travel Grants Program, the 25th annual NBGSA Conference Fellow, the William Lawson Jr. Memorial Scholarship, the Walgreens Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Scholarship, the Dolly Harris Endowed Scholarship, and the Joyce and Harold Washington Endowed Scholarship — Watts is driven to accomplish more.

“I was born in Jamaica, and my family always taught me hard work,” she said. “So I just want to keep working hard and make the faculty proud. To me, there really is a Trojan Family because I think of them when I’m studying, when I’m doing things, during success and failures.”

In the fall, Watts’ husband of nine years, Thomas, will join her at USC to pursue a master’s degree in public diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“We don’t have children yet,” Watts said, “but we definitely want them to be Trojans.”