Newswise — JoAnn Trejo, professor in the Department of Pharmacology at University of California, San Diego, has been named the 2017 winner of the E.E. Just Award by the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB). Trejo will receive the award and present a lecture on her research at the 2017 ASCB|EMBO Meeting on December 3 in Philadelphia.

Trejo earned her bachelor’s degree in toxicology and biochemistry from the University of California, Davis in 1986 and her doctorate from UCSD in 1992, where she also earned an MBA in 2015. Her research has resulted in a host of novel discoveries about the regulation of receptor signaling and trafficking by G-protein–coupled receptors in the context of endothelial cell dysfunction and breast cancer progression. In 2015 she was appointed the Associate Dean for Health Sciences Faculty Affairs at UCSD and has developed and implemented strategies for creating an inclusive environment and for the recruitment, retention, and development of diverse faculty.

Trejo’s passion for science was no doubt fostered during summers as an undergraduate while living in a small cottage on the property of immigrant engineering professor Antoni Oppenheim. Oppenheim’s mentoring—and certainly Trejo’s own strength and gumption—propelled her to success. Trejo is the youngest of five children in a family of migrant workers and was raised by a single mother with little education.

ASCB’s E.E. Just Award is named for Earnest Everett Just (1883–1941), a brilliant biologist who made numerous landmark discoveries in fertilization and embryo morphogenesis. At the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole, he was seen as the expert in marine embryo culture and development. Nevertheless, Just could not be appointed to the faculty of most universities because he was African-American.

Although Trejo says she is honored to receive this award, she notes that the barriers Just experienced persist today. She explains that “studies have shown that many aspiring women and underrepresented scientists fail to meet educational institutions’ normalized standards of merit” and are thereby denied access to these institutions. Trejo believes that “education [is] a route to a different life,” but the United States needs to redefine merit so we can attract the most promising scientists from an array of backgrounds.