Chamber awards NAU mentoring maven

Loretta Mayer

Like the mythical Greek Athena, Loretta Mayer has a thing for wisdom, and she hopes to pass it on.

Mayer, an NAU assistant research professor in biological sciences, won Flagstaff’s 20th Athena Award, honoring women who have achieved career success, contribute to the community and mentor other professional women.

“I was stunned and elated when they called my name for the award because I already have a blast doing what I do,” said Mayer, who accepted the honor during the Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and Athena Award celebration at the High Country Conference Center on Jan. 22.

Mayer credits her “worker bee” attitude for helping her develop leadership qualities. “I see opportunities and want to take advantage of them,” she said. “When I see young kids with a fire in their belly to learn, I ask them how I can help.”

Besides mentoring NAU research students, Mayer also is founder of the university’s Girls in Science Summer Day Camp—a two-week camp offering about 40 teenage girls CSI forensic-type lab experiences.

“Mentoring is critical,” she said. “You take all of your experiences, spanning a number of years and different events, and you distill it and focus on what’s important.”

Her advice to anyone with a dream: “Do what makes you want to what get of out of bed every day. If you focus on that, the way for it to happen will become clear,” she said. “If you focus on the negative and the challenges, your way will not become clear.”

After 20 years working in real-estate development and the sudden heart attack of Mayer’s own mentor, it became clear to her it was time to step into science so she could awaken each day with the inspiration to “improve the quality of life.”

Her desire to learn brought her to NAU to earn advanced degrees. She also is a co-inventor of Mouseopause, a chemical method of inducing menopause in rodents. The safe alternative to rat poison increases the rodents’ aging process and results in their sterility. Since up to one-third of the world’s food supply never reaches the table due to rodent crop damage, the discovery could mean more food for millions of people in developing countries.

To bring the rodent-control technology to the masses, Mayer and her NAU research partners, Timothy Vail, an associate professor in chemistry and biochemistry, along with Mayer’s first science mentor, Cheryl Dyer, a research professor in biological sciences, developed SenesTech, Inc., a Flagstaff-based biotech company.

Mayer said she hopes to leverage her Athena Award to increase community integration into the girls’ science camp. “I want to show people how cool working with these young girls can be,” she said. “The mentoring water is fine, come on in.”

In addition to Mayer, Sara Herron, a design instructor at NAU and Coconino Community College, received the 2008 Athena Young Professional Award, presented to an emerging leader in the community.