Roanoke College

Southers leads research that could save lives

  • Southers leads research that could save lives

  • 06/27/07
  • Jim Southers '97 had no idea what he wanted to be when he was a freshman, but today he's working on developing new medicines at the headquarters of a leading pharmaceutical company.

    As a senior associate scientist for Pfizer, Southers is exploring treatments for cardiovascular, metabolic and endocrine diseases. He works at the company's headquarters in Groton, Connecticut, where he says he has "every imaginable resource" and is excited by the possibilities. It's a big change - and one he credits to his experiences with his professors.

    "The excitement of the Roanoke College chemistry department's teaching staff got me hooked," he says. "I absolutely fell in love with organic chemistry."

    Southers had been recognized with the College's Dr. C.W. Bondurant Student Affiliate Award, which got him a one-on-one summer internship with his mentor and associate professor, Dr. Gary Hollis. He followed that with a second lab internship at cosmetic giant Elizabeth Arden, which was facilitated by chemistry professor Dr. Benjamin Huddle. "At Elizabeth Arden, I realized you could actually earn money in a lab!" he adds, laughing.

    But money isn't what keeps him going - it's the hope of making a difference in the world. "We make drug-like compounds on a day-to-day basis, which we have a reasonable belief may be effective," he says. "Then we test them to assess whether they might work in humans, how they are tolerated and what side effects exist."

    Southers also applies that scientific approach to analyzing his success and encouraging other Roanoke students to the field. The College's small classes, accessible faculty and hands-on experiences with sophisticated equipment helped set him apart from other job applicants, he says, and can do the same for others. Pfizer, in fact, has encouraged Southers to visit Roanoke College and share with students information about being a chemist with the company.

    "Even without their urging, I've wanted to visit the campus to speak with students about my work because it's so satisfying," he says. "Students need to hear that."

    Toni McLawhorn, the College's director of career services, agrees and praises such alumni involvement. "I stay in touch with people like Jim Southers, who express interest in helping Roanoke College students and recent graduates find internships and job placement central to their own fields," she says. "It's a wonderful way to give back to the College community."

    Southers, a Cloverdale, Va., native, has a history of trying to help younger folks appreciate the world of chemistry. When he was president of the College's student affiliates chapter of the American Chemical Society, he had worked to "demystify" chemistry for curious local elementary school students. Today, he and his wife, Lisa, are raising their 2-year-old daughter, Madeline, and, as he says, experiencing a whole new world of learning.