The American College of Toxicology (ACT) has awarded the Mildred Christian Women's Leadership in Toxicology Award to Marion Ehrich, professor emerita of pharmacology and toxicology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. The second highest award offered by ACT, this honor is given to a woman who has impacted the advancement of science and practice of toxicology on a global level in a field dominated by men.

It's no secret that women have historically been excluded from many scientific disciplines. Female scientists can only advance in these fields today because of the women who came before them and forged a path for others to follow. Awards like the Mildred Christian Women's Leadership are one step toward honoring the tireless efforts of female scientists like Ehrich. They have worked against all odds to pioneer the rightful place for women in many scientific disciplines, including toxicology.

The ACT - which educates, leads, and serves professionals in toxicology and related disciplines - first presented the Mildred Christian Women's Leadership in Toxicology Award in 2017. It was named in honor of 1992 ACT President Mildred Christian, Ph.D., and is specific for women attaining global recognition for advancements made in the science and practice of toxicology. Nominees may come from many fields (the pharmaceutical or chemistry industries, contract research organizations, government agencies, academia) but must have attained industry, government, or academic recognition at a global level. In addition, recipients demonstrate leadership, inclusiveness, collaboration, perseverance, and devotion to the ACT goals to educate, lead, and serve.

This award is only one of the many accolades Ehrich has received since joining the veterinary college in 1980. Her vast array of experiences and unique contributions to the college and her field have earned her many awards, certificates, and recognitions.

In 2010, she was awarded the Society of Toxicology's merit award, after service in multiple capacities, including 2003–04 president. However, what sets the Mildred Christian Women's Leadership in Toxicology Award apart from Ehrich's others is its scope and focus.

"This international award is unique in that it is named for and recognizes women leaders in toxicology, a field in which, for a long time, there were few who met the leadership criteria," Ehrich said. Women achieving leadership roles in this discipline has historically been challenging, making receiving the award remarkable.

Ehrich is quite familiar with the challenges of advancing in a male-dominated field that initially took significant measures to keep women out. Fortunately, these barriers did not deter Ehrich from pursuing her passion in the late '60s when she was a recent undergraduate eager to continue her education.

"I got into toxicology because it provided me with a funded opportunity to go to graduate school in an area related to my undergraduate in pharmacy. I entered the University of Chicago in fall 1968 and received my M.S. in 1970, weeks after I married. It took until 1973 to be able to enter a Ph.D. program as there was a lot of skepticism and reluctance to have married women in graduate programs at that time, even if qualified," she said.

Since pioneering a spot for herself in the field, Ehrich has been incredibly involved in its development. She began teaching at the veterinary college in 1980, the same year she became a member of the Society of Toxicology and a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology. In 1999, she was elected a fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences and served as its secretary-treasurer from 2006 to 2009. She has also been part of numerous national committees, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scientific Advisory Panel for the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the United States Pharmacopeia Committee on Toxicology. Currently, she serves as an associate editor for the ACT's International Journal of Toxicology. Ehrich's varied roles show how the place of women has changed since she dealt with the skepticism of being a married woman in a Ph.D. program 50 years ago.

The Mildred Christian Women's Leadership in Toxicology Award is one step toward rightfully acknowledging women's role in the development of toxicology. Without the contributions of women like Ehrich, toxicology would not be where it is in 2021. As such, students at the veterinary college have much to learn from Ehrich, whose hard work, leadership, and expertise have served her and her field for the last 50 years. Her passion for toxicology is a testament to the power of perseverance and the capabilities of women in science.

"Toxicology provides lots of opportunities for young scientists who want to make a difference, and it is a very interdisciplinary field. Toxicologists can work in academia, industry, or government, teaching new scientists, helping develop new products, and making certain drugs and chemicals that can be safely used. There are opportunities in consumer safety, environmental protection, environmental justice, poison control, and elsewhere," Ehrich said.


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