Two OC alumni featured among Forty Under 40

The following profiles were published in the “Forty Under 40” section of Oklahoma Magazine, featuring OC alumnae Darise Farris and Shannon Thompson


Darise Farris, Ph.D., 38
Click here to watch the video interview
Assistant Member Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
Also Adjunct Assistant Professor, OU Health Sciences Center
Hometown: Lawton, OK
Education: B.S., biochemistry, Oklahoma Christian University; M.S., microbiology and immunology, and Ph.D., molecular immunology, OU Health Sciences Center

YOU, IN A NUTSHELL

Most known for: Investigating aspects of a phenomenon known as immunologic tolerance. Tolerance is a process by which cells of the immune system learn not to react to self tissues.

Your true calling: I think that my true calling is to study T cells and how they work. I am still trying to understand why I am so attracted to this particular blood cell.

What brought you to this calling? I think this is an example of how seemingly random occurrences can change your life. When I was in college and still determining which profession I would enter, I changed my major from biochemistry to science education for one semester. About 10 minutes in a roomful of 7th graders was all it took to convince me to change my major back to biochemistry. I also found the core education courses boring. This misadventure (or, rather, valuable learning experience; I’ll never have to wonder if I should have taught children) was going to cost me an extra year of college, since I had missed a course that was only offered every second year. The chairman of our science department suggested that I substitute the missed course with a new course called Immunology. Although I had no idea what this science entailed, I enrolled. The instructor, Dr. Kim Gaither, was a fresh Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and had completed her graduate studies in the lab of John Harley at OMRF. Although I didn’t learn about T cells in that introductory course, I found immunology fascinating. Dr. Gaither introduced me to Dr. Harley, and I eventually ended up obtaining my Ph.D. in his lab. Sadly, Kim died of breast cancer just over a year ago.

Biggest achievement: My biggest achievement was to generate a T cell receptor transgenic mouse. This involved a series of difficult steps that were completed by several talented people from my lab.

Proudest moment: I think my proudest moment was when I learned that I was going to be awarded with my first R01 grant from the NIH. This is a real milestone in a scientist’s career.

Biggest hurdle you’ve overcome: I can’t single out just one… there are so many. The biggest challenge in the life of a scientist is to avoid getting discouraged when the experimental results are bad or when you have papers and grants get rejected. You just have to keep exploring and stay self-motivated. It’s a constant battle.

Something people should know about you that isn’t on your resume: I run better on espresso.

Life’s motto: Finish what you start. This was one from my mother that has stuck with me.

Your inspiration: One of my inspirations is Kim Gaither. She demonstrated excellence in all areas of her life: professional, family and spiritual.

Prefer teamwork or flying solo? Achievements and struggles are two things that are better shared.

Art person or business person: I have always been drawn to art more than business.

If you burned out tomorrow, what would you do? I would go back to being a post-doc. Post-docs get to do science full-time in a more focused way without having to deal with the headaches of fundraising and management.

Ways you plan to self-improve: I aspire to become more organized and to be more flexible in my thinking.

Advice for the next generation: Do at least one thing every day that will get you closer to your goal.

Yourself, in three words: Determined, understanding and stubborn (I’m working on it)

YOU, OFF THE CLOCK

Charity/volunteer work: I help out at my church whenever I can.

How you spend downtime: Taking my daughter to baton twirling competitions, watching my son play T-ball or skateboard, and camping with my family. Time for myself is rare, but when I get it, I enjoy reading and watching movies.

Passions and diversions: Right now I am meeting with a small group of people on an irregular basis for the purpose of discussing science and religion. This has been really inspiring, since the group is incredibly diverse. It is made of “science people” with totally different backgrounds and beliefs, including people who do and do not believe in a higher being.

Stress relievers: Going to dinner or watching movies with my husband.

THE FUTURE OF YOU

What’s next? There are two major types of immunity that are non-mutually exclusive: innate and antigen-specific. I have been studying antigen-specific immunity most of my career. Next, my laboratory will be working to understand how innate immunity impacts T cell function.

What you’re working for: I want to use my mouse models to learn something new about how T cells work and apply that knowledge to the human situation.

A dream you know will happen: I have no doubt that it is only a matter of time before autoimmune diseases will be cured and prevented. My goal is to contribute to the knowledge base that will make this happen.

How you’ll make your mark: My mark will be made with a transgenic mouse model that we (the great people in my lab) have made in which all of the mouse’s T cells recognize a common self protein that is an autoimmune target in lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. This is something I have been working towards for seven years. This model will help us understand what biological pathways prevent most people from getting autoimmune diseases like these.

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Shannon Thompson, 34
Click here for a video interview
Principal, Fairview Elementary, Moore Schools
Hometown: Oklahoma City
Education: B.A., elementary education, Oklahoma Christian University; M.A., elementary administration, University of Central Oklahoma

YOU, IN A NUTSHELL

Most known for: I am most known for my positive and upbeat attitude, which I try to maintain in every situation.

Your true calling: I believe that my true calling is working with all types of children to ensure their safety, education, and overall well-being.

What brought you to this calling? My mother was a teacher and administrator and it has been what I wanted to since grade school.  I feel like God has opened many doors that have enabled me to fulfill my calling.

Biggest achievement: My biggest achievement is being a wife to my husband, Ken, and a mother to my two young daughters, Faith and Hope.

Proudest moment: My proudest moments are those involving my personal children and their accomplishments.  I also beam with pride when former students contact me with success stories of their own!

Biggest hurdle you’ve overcome: Invoking change through positive and trusting relationships and creating a shared vision of positive school climate and student achievement, which resulted in raised test scores from an API of 1172 to 1410 in two years. 

Something people should know about you that isn’t on your resume: My husband used to own an auto repossession company and I was known for a few years as “the repo chick.”

Life’s motto: You make your own weather!  In other words, don’t let other people or events control your mind set, emotions or attitudes.

Your inspiration: My inspirations change as my time of life evolves and unfolds into new directions.

Prefer teamwork or flying solo? In education, you accomplish more and work much more efficiently when collaborating with a team.

Art person or business person: I have NO creative abilities.  I am definitely a business person.

If you burned out tomorrow, what would you do? I would probably apply to law school.

Ways you plan to self-improve: I enjoy attending conferences that have to do with school leadership and learning styles.  I try to take advantage of as many professional development opportunities as possible and plan on continuing to be a part of professional organizations. 

Advice for the next generation:  Always look at trails in life as new learning opportunities.  Try to maintain balance in your life as you juggle family, church, self, career and civic responsibilities. 

Yourself, in three words:  Personable, balanced and reflective

YOU, OFF THE CLOCK

Charity/volunteer work: I volunteer on a limited basis at my church and children’s school.  I would love to find time to do more active in an outside charitable group.

How you spend downtime: Most of my time is spent with my family and participating in all my daughters’ activities.  I do enjoy baking and reading when I find a few moments to myself.  I try to meet with groups of friends who are also mothers at least once a month for “sanity” time.

Passions and diversions: My passions are children, learning and spending time with my family.

Stress relievers: Time to myself for reflection and meditation.

THE FUTURE OF YOU

What’s next?  I will eventually begin to work on a Ph.D.  However, career-wise, I am very content continuing to lead Fairview Elementary to bigger and better things! 

What you’re working for:  I want to be a positive role model for my personal children and the children I work with each day.

How you’ll make your mark:  I hope that when the thousands of children I have been responsible for throughout the years think back on me they will smile knowing I loved them and always had their best interests in mind with each decision I made.  I want them to remember me smiling, laughing, and living a full life.