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Women Who Reign: Dr. Fon Powell, PhD

 “People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
Hi! My name is Fon Powell. I’m currently a management consultant at a large company in New York City. I recently earned a PhD in Computational Neuroscience from Cornell University where I was a Ford Foundation Fellow and US Amgen Scholar. I have a B.S. in Neuroscience from Duke University. During my years as a full-time Neuroscientist, I used graph theory, complex statistics and machine learning to build predictive mathematical models of how neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, spread throughout the human brain. I’ve also presented and authored research on neural disorders like Depression, Autism, Schizophrenia, Huntington’s and Anorexia. During my PhD program, I invented and filed a patent for a medical device to measure daily salt intake at home using a plastic stick and mobile app. Subsequently, I founded and was the CEO of a startup company developing the technology for nearly 3 years. Me and my early-stage company (called S.A.L.T. – Sodium Analyte Level Test) were featured by the National Women’s Business Council, Project Entrepreneur, AT&T and also won a grant from the city of New York for a clinical trial.

I’m passionate about seeing more minorities in STEM. My passion led me to create a biomedical research summer internship program in 2016 for minority college students. Furthermore, I have also been a Mentor Coach for the past 2 years at America Needs You, a non-profit promoting educational mobility.
Fun fact: I’m fluent in Spanish!

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What # would define your life journey?
#blackgirlmagic

Favorite website / app:
I love data analysis, statistics and machine learning! My favorite programming languages to get the job done are MATLAB, R and Python. I’ve been recently teaching myself deep learning (a newer area of machine learning) and tensorflow.org has been immensely helpful for that.

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
I absolutely love to read and have been reading Toni Morrison’s work since high school. The knowledge she has imparted to me can best be summarized by a quote of hers: “The very serious function of racism [and by extension, sexism, or ageism] is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is.” This quote has inspired me to keep focused on my work, interests and true purpose in life.

Song that makes you want to dance:
“Jump” by Van Halen

Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
During my first year of grad school, I had an older male professor tell me I wasn’t cut out to be at Weill Cornell. Rather than listen to him, I persisted – finishing my PhD in a record 4 years, contributing to a record 8 (published and pending) publications and receiving an award that the school hadn’t seen a student win in over 10 years. Had I internalized certain opinions about my capabilities, I may have ended up leaving the program in Year 1. That experience defined me because it taught me: Do not internalize society’s messages of what you can and cannot do. Persist.

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Ideal Job:
My ideal job is exactly what I’m doing now! As a management consultant, I’m working with top companies in the world to solve their business problems and help them figure out new/better ways to do things. Working with healthcare companies is especially of interest, given my science background. My job involves significant data analysis, behinds-the-scenes insight into how companies operate and communicating with CEOs/COOs/CFOs. In the future, I plan to be CEO of a healthcare-related Fortune 500 company.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Surround yourself with a strong network of mentors (someone more experienced), advisers (an absolute expert in the field), advocates (someone who will speak well on your behalf) and positive support (friends, family and amazing colleagues.  

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