Dr. Lynda Lanning had limited time to talk. As soon as this interview was over, the internationally respected toxicologic pathologist would jump on a conference call with other researchers and policymakers to discuss how to protect the American public from the Zika virus.
Still, Lynda and her mother, Doris Lanning, were excited to talk about the daughter’s life-changing experience at NC State University, and in particular their appreciation for the leadership development opportunities and support she received as an NC Fellow (now known as Caldwell Fellows), a program that the family supports to this day.
Not minutes into talking with the mother-daughter duo, it became abundantly clear that this mother’s pride in her daughter’s achievements — and gratitude to the NC State community — continues today.
A Mother’s Pride
Lynda Lanning was no ordinary kid, Doris Lanning was quick to point out. Lynda graduated high school a year early and came to NC State in the summer of 1977 at age 17. She earned bachelor’s degrees in zoology and animal science — “summa cum laude, by the way,” Doris interjected — in just two years before heading to Auburn University for veterinary school. (NC State did not yet have a vet school at that time.)
“Lynda was so young, and doing all of this so quickly,” Doris recalled. “My husband and I were so proud of her. We knew she was way ahead of us, and we didn’t want to do anything that would interfere, so we tried to stay out of it, other than making sure she was safe!”
As a freshman at NC State, Lynda heard about the NC Fellows (the predecessor to the Caldwell Fellows), a highly selective leadership development program, and decided to apply. She was one of 15 NC State students selected.
“NC Fellows was run across several universities at the time, but now the Caldwell Fellows program is completely unique to NC State,” Lynda explained. “Fellows have access to learning opportunities that other students don’t. For instance, I spent a summer in Oxford, England, and I participated in a program at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Because of the connections I made as a fellow, I ended up doing a post-doc at Argonne after I graduated from veterinary school, and that connection has lasted even through today. Those are the kinds of connections that this program brings about: connections that last a lifetime.”
As parents, the most important connections for Doris and her husband were those that helped ensure their young daughter’s safety as she traveled far beyond her North Carolina home. “The first time she went to Chicago to participate in a summer research program at Argonne National Lab through the NC Fellows, arrangements were made to have some NC State alumni pick her up at the airport, invite her to their homes and take care of her. The alumni, the professors, the Fellows program — everyone at State just took Lynda under their wings,” Doris said appreciatively.
A Passion for Research
Ultimately, Lynda felt that she could contribute more to veterinary medicine and public health as a researcher than as a practicing veterinarian, so she entered a pathology training program at
Argonne National Lab/University of Chicago.
Doris thinks that NC State had a lot to do with that decision, too.
“The first time I heard of Lynda’s interest in research was from her professor in the pre-veterinary program, Dr. D. Moncol, at State. I was visiting and she took me over to the lab, and he said, ‘Your daughter needs to be in research and nothing else. No doubt about it.’”
Today, Lynda is a regulatory toxicologic pathologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. She works on emerging biological threats, like the Zika virus, and on repurposing currently licensed therapeutics and using new vaccines to combat these emerging threats in veterinary and human medicine.
“She’s been all over the world doing her work! From Japan to Australia, Ethiopia, you name it,” Lynda’s proud mother chimed in.
Devoted to NC State
Lynda remains deeply devoted to NC State, in particular to the Caldwell Fellows. She helps review student applications and returns to campus each year for interviews. She serves on the Caldwell Alumni Society and mentors Fellows while they are in school and after graduation. When she travels — which is often — she makes time to connect with other Caldwell alumni over coffee or lunch.
One of Lynda’s favorite activities is interview day, an annual opportunity to meet the newest crop of candidates for the Caldwell Fellows and to reconnect with other alumni and mentors. In particular, she loves seeing Dr. Gerald Hawkins, the program’s original director, and Dr. Janice Odom, the current (and only other) director, who Lynda credits with advancing the program’s mission.
“Dean Hawkins was such an important mentor to me personally, and remains a strong and devoted supporter of the program,” Lynda acknowledged, and Doris heartily agreed. “And he’s extraordinarily humble. If we could all be like him, I think we would all be better people.”
The Lanning Fund
In 2004, Lynda established an endowment to provide long-term support for the Caldwell Fellows. The Lanning Fund provides enrichment funding for Fellows interested in biological and veterinary sciences so they can partake in experiential learning opportunities that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive.
“Once you are a Caldwell Fellow, it’s for life,” Lynda said. “We all feel really strongly that we are stewards of the program, and we want to make sure that it remains strong. I always knew that, if I had the money, this was what I was going to support.”
Giving to the Lanning Fund has become a family affair. Doris sends financial donations in her daughter’s honor on Christmas and her birthday. Lynda’s sister, Peggy Lanning Hales, also contributes in the hope that today’s students can enjoy similar opportunities and follow in her sister’s footsteps as “an upstanding contributor to our society…always working toward helping future generations through her commitment to her life’s work.”
NC State as a whole has become a family affair too, Doris shared. “Everything they did for Lynda, they did for our entire family. Dean Hawkins, the faculty, the alumni — all of that helped develop her to be able to do what she does now. Thanks to North Carolina State University.”
Spoken like a proud mom.