Lorie Solomon-Beale, laboratory research technician at the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute, checks on the progress of an experiment she has running to extract glucose sinulate from cabbage. She determines it is going fine but realizes she’ll have to keep an eye on it throughout the day.
Solomon-Beale works for Allan Brown, PhD, an applied molecular geneticist, who is a renowned scientist known for his research breeding broccoli and cabbage with enhanced health-benefitting, bioactive compounds. She helps Brown with DNA isolation, PCR, works with molecular markers, harvests vegetables in the field and pollinates plants in the greenhouse and growth rooms.
The variety of duties she balances keeps her on her toes. She moves through the lab to a nearby growth room where she checks on blossoming broccoli plants that need to be pollinated. From there, she moves down the hall to a room filled with yellow light that prevents the degradation of the bioactive compounds in the hundreds of vials of ground broccoli that line the counters. The samples will be freeze dried and then stored in a -80 degree freezer.
Walking briskly into a neighboring laboratory, Solomon-Beale points to a fume hood with three coffee grinders under it where she regularly grinds samples of broccoli and cabbage into a fine powder from which bioactive compounds are extracted. She stops at a nearby chest freezer placing a bag of cabbage leaves inside. She rifles through the freezer’s contents looking at bags of frozen broccoli and blueberry samples that Brown’s staff have grown and preserved for research.
Her boundless energy not only sees her through hectic days in the lab, it has seen her through years as a single mother raising four children while working fulltime in the trucking industry. In 2008, at the age of 47, she was laid off from Freightliner in Salisbury. At the time, the newspapers were filled with stories about the newly opened research campus and the promise of biotechnology. She decided to change course and write a new chapter in her life by enrolling in the Rowan-Cabarrus applied science degree program in biotechnology.
“It was scary, but it felt like the right thing to do,” she recalled. “I was looking for a job and found that jobs weren’t out there. I was single and trying to think about what to do and how to support myself. Going back to school was a big step, but I’m glad I took it.”
Since Solomon-Beale hadn’t cracked a textbook since high school, her first challenge was learning to study again. Math classes were difficult followed by the adjustment to online learning. The science classes, however, she loved. She took advantage of the cooperative education program and worked in Brown’s lab the summer after she graduated in 2010 and was hired fulltime in 2011.
Brown appreciates the advantages of internship programs. “Interns are helpful to us. The interns that we have give me an opportunity to observe them before hiring them on. It’s great for them because it gives them background in a number of different areas. They are working in the lab, in the greenhouse and in the field. They really do get a mix of everything in plant science. I think it is beneficial to both sides.”
Solomon-Beale is now writing another new chapter in her life. She recently remarried. She and her husband have six grown children and seven grandchildren. She hasn’t ruled out returning to school again, but for now, being a laboratory research technician, wife and grandmother are enough.
Her advice to others is not to be intimidated about going back to school. “You think you’re going to get into class and have all of these 18, 19 and 20 year olds, and you’re going to be the only one who is middle aged. It’s just not so. There were students who were older than I was. It was really diverse at Rowan-Cabarrus.”