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The Catalyst

Research mentor praised for her advocacy, support of others

By Cindy Abole

Members of Dr. Samar Hammad's research team taken in 2010. They include Dr. Rick Klein, from left, Department of Medicine; Dr. Hammad; two summer students in the CGS/Summer Undergraduate Research program, Dezirea Jones from Erskine College and returning student Jashalynn German from Spelman College; staff scientist Jean-Philip Truman; and postdoctoral fellow Mohammed Al Gadban.

Discovery: a word that defines the life and journeys of Samar Hammad, Ph.D., and underscores the very reason she is being honored during Women’s History Month for the dynamic role she plays in advancing new knowledge and scientific breakthroughs.

Being a scientist could not be a more perfect fit for Hammad. She has spent her entire life asking profound questions, searching for elusive answers and blazing her own trails. While she grew up in a male-dominated culture in the Middle East, thanks to a progressive father who believed his wife and daughter should be his equals, not subjugated to a particular way of thinking and living, she discovered what it was like, very early on, to think for herself — a gift many others she knew did not have the opportunity to enjoy.

Hammad discovered she could stand up against the status quo, and she could do things that were not considered to be within a woman’s scope of influence. She discovered she could break glass ceilings and excel in male–dominated fields. Later, as a woman scientist, researcher and educator and an activist for social issues and women’s rights, she discovered she not only had a voice, a purpose and a heart for what is right and fair, she had a burden to do something about it.

Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology's Dr. Samar Hammad, right, is joined by her husband, Dr. Waleed Twal, left, and former MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg. The couple were recruited as post-doctoral fellows in 1996.

She had discovered her passion and knew she had much to share. But rather than taking an aggressive approach, Hammad realized she could voice her opinions without causing offense, that she had the ability to convey her views without making it personal.

By enduring a lifetime of her own challenges, she found the conviction to oppose gender bias and to empower women in the workplace; to advocate for pay equity and to mentor early– and mid–career women faculty about work–life balance, negotiating skills and goal setting. Her conviction came from courage, courage that she learned at a young age. That courage would drive a lifetime of discoveries.

Hammad’s beliefs originated in a region more than half a world away. As a woman from Jordan with Palestinian roots, Hammad was born to a modest family — the eldest of six children. Though raised in Kuwait, where her parents had emigrated when her father took a position with the Kuwaiti government, she returned to Jordan often. To stay close to relatives, the family owned a home in Amman, and spent holidays and vacations there. A model student, Hammad excelled in math and science and graduated early from high school at age 16.

In the Middle Eastern culture, it was acceptable for a family’s sons to go away and attend college, but daughters were expected to stay behind with their fathers. Defying tradition, and with her father’s blessing, Hammad went on to attend Kuwait University, where she studied zoology. Men and women attended classes on separate campuses and spent little time together.

After graduating in 1977, Hammad worked in Kuwait University for two years before continuing her studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There, she earned a master’s degree in medical parasitology. In 1980, she returned to Jordan, working as an instructor in biological sciences at the University of Jordan. While at the university, she met her future husband, Waleed O. Twal, Ph.D., now a research associate professor in the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology. They married in 1989 in the U.S. and both were accepted to complete their doctorates in Physiology at Pennsylvania State University. Hammad worked with physiology mentor Herbert Siegel, Ph.D., who helped expand her interests in lipoprotein–related research using avian animal models and evaluating cholesterol levels and their relationship with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Samar Hammad, second row center, was inducted along with 52 charter faculty members into the new chapter of the National Academy of Inventors at MUSC on January 15, 2015. She was recognized with her patent invention in 2005.

In 1996, she and Twal were recruited to MUSC to work in the lab of the late Scott Argraves, Ph.D., in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy.  As a post–doctoral fellow, she worked on the molecular aspects of lipoprotein metabolism to identify receptors for the good cholesterol carrier, HDL. She and Argraves would later be recognized for developing a patent invention to formulate methods and compositions for HDL Holoparticle Uptake Receptor issued in 2005.

In 1999, Hammad worked as a clinical research instructor, and in 2002 as a research assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, studying modified lipoproteins and developing a mouse model to evaluate vascular complications in diabetes.

It was in 2006 that she moved to the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology working under Roger Markwald, Ph.D., distinguished university professor and then chairman of the department. She set up her first funded lab to further study signaling pathways in immune cells and study sphingolipids in patients with inflammatory disease.

Dr. Hammad loves mentoring students from all levels from post-doctoral fellows to summer undergraduate research students to high school students.

In addition to her research, Hammad has hosted more than 30 post–doctoral fellows, junior faculty, summer undergraduate research and high school student mentees over the years.

“Mentoring is extremely important to me,” she said, with a broad smile. “I see myself in people, and I want them to succeed.”

She connects that back to the many people who were supportive of her throughout her career at MUSC, and she’s grateful for the opportunity she has had to work with a corps of extraordinary research mentors.
Christine B. Kern, Ph.D., associate professor, is a colleague of Hammad in the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology. She can’t be more praiseworthy of Hammad for her ongoing “all–in” support and guidance as a mentor and friend.  

“Samar has been important to my career progression, because from day one she believed in my potential for success. It is fair to say that she believed in me more than I did. Her enthusiasm in my successes, whether it was one of my students winning at student research day or obtaining that career–saving extramural grant, is genuine. You get the feeling that she is as happy as you are.  She would walk down the hall and see my students practicing for poster competitions, and she would stop in to wish them well. She gushes enthusiasm for others, which has been a huge benefit for me and the members of my lab.”

Stephen A. Duncan, DPhil., Smartstate Chair in Regenerative Medicine and chairman of the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, has only worked with  Hammad over the past year, but already he is impressed by his colleague’s confidence and expertise.

“Samar has many strengths,” he said. “She is ambitious and cares deeply about her research and how it can be used to improve health care. She has been extremely active as a mentor and acts as a role model for many young women faculty in particular. In addition to being an an extraordinary scientist, she is a delightful person with a warm personality and great sense of humor. She is also extremely intelligent and asks pertinent questions of seminar speakers regardless of how closely the work relates to her own. All of these attributes reflect her confidence as an academic, which I believe is considerable.”

Since its inception, Hammad has been among core faculty supporting MUSC’s Women Scholars Initiative (WSI) and Center for ARROWS (Advancement, Recruitment and Retention of Women in Science), programs established to provide support to Ph.D.– level female scientists and research faculty. The WSI was formed as a joint project of the Office of the President and the Provost’s Office to help promote the careers of women faculty at MUSC. An active member and leader, Hammad led the WSI workshops program for career development and served as chair of the Barriers to Progress sub–committee until 2010. She also actively helps junior faculty develop their networking skills and continuously recruits new members.

Dr. Samar Hammad, center, is joined by Dr. Kathryn Magruder and other WSI members in welcoming Dr. Regina Benjamin, right, former U.S. Surgeon General, during her visit in April 2015.

Rosalie K. Crouch, Ph.D., distinguished university professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and a founding member of WSI, worked with Hammad and other women leaders on campus to develop the WSI program.

“Samar was certainly instrumental in getting the WSI started and has been supportive throughout the whole development and progress of the program. Her incredibly positive nature and constant encouragement pushes all of us to do more. She is truly an example of an outstanding woman scientist, showing the determination and perseverance to survive in this rather hard environment,” she said.

Tamara Nowling , Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Rheumatology & Immunology, serves as WSI vice chair and has worked with Hammad from the group’s beginning. She describes her colleague as intelligent, driven and passionate, especially when it comes to discussing her research or WSI’s mission.  

“Samar has been an integral and consistent driver within the Women Scholars Initiative since its early inception approximately 12 years ago. She has helped develop the programming and shaped WSI into the successful program it is today. As a staunch advocate of women, she currently chairs the workshop subcommittee, planning workshops designed to support and promote the careers of women faculty. Samar does not give up on something or someone she believes in, which is what makes her so successful,” Nowling said.

Hammad would like to see MUSC’s WSI and ARROWS program continue to make progress in the development of women faculty and spend more time educating male faculty members and campus colleagues about leadership and the importance of women’s achievements and equal opportunity. “For women to choose their paths is the key to happiness and progress for the whole community,” she said.

Reflecting on her career and place in life, she is proud of the tough road she has traveled. She hopes that science and scientific discoveries can help guide people to justice and objectivity in all aspects of life.

March 25, 2016



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