All posts by Sock Robot

Dr. Karen Wilcox

Name: Dr. Karen Wilcox
Hometown: New Milford, NJ
Occupation: Department Chair at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah, Principle Investigator of the Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program

Dr. Karen Wilcox is a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah, and the director of an anticonvulsant drug development program. When she’s not combing over new data with her students and postdoctoral trainees in the lab, she’s going to meetings, and trying to answer the copious emails she receives. This brainiac neuroscientist always knew that she had wanted to be involved in science, so that sort of a schedule is a dream come true.

“When I was a small girl, I wanted to be an archeologist. And then an influential high school science teacher got me interested in marine biology. Finally, a mentor I met in college taught me about neuroscience, and I knew I had found my calling. So as far back as I can remember, I have always had a sense that I wanted to be a scientist,” she explains.

After years honing her skills and becoming an esteemed researcher, she and her husband moved to Utah to follow a great career opportunity for him.

“It was a bit unclear whether I would find an academic position here,” she recalls. “I was lucky, but had to start in what is known as a research track assistant professor position, which meant that I was not in a more secure tenure line. Eventually I was able to be switched to the tenure line and that has helped with my career tremendously.”

Now she works to hire new faculty members for her department, and makes sure those eligible candidates ensure its long-term success. Beyond the scope of academia alone, she is the Principle Investigator for the contract site of the Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program.

This is your brain on massive magnification.

“Just about all anti seizure drugs have been through our program,” Dr. Wilcox says, “so we are very proud of the fact that many of the medicines that are now available to patients with epilepsy have been through our program. When we test them for activity in our experiments, we are blinded to them so we can perform the experiments in an unbiased way. So I do not know which potential medicines we are currently working on!”

Fortunately, this contract for the program is NIH funded and has been at her university for over 40 years, though garnering funding for experiments is always a challenge. Nonetheless, Dr. Wilcox hopes that her experiments will continue to help those who suffer from epilepsy and that someday she and her team will either discover a cure or a way to prevent epilepsy in those patients at risk for developing it following a brain injury.

Dr. Wilcox in the WildernessBeyond the lab, Dr. Wilcox explores the beautiful foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, soaking up the replenishing energy of nature with her husband and their newly adopted terrier, Milo. She also binge watches British detective shows, reads historical fiction novels, and gets her passport stamped as often as possible. “I love to travel to other countries, which my job lets me do!” she says.

For her tireless work researching, and running a department whose experiments and steadfastness help countless people suffering from epilepsy, and for enriching the lives and minds of her students and co-faculty, we think Dr. Karen Wilcox is a Cool Girl!

You can connect with Dr. Wilcox on twitter at @kswilcox
Or see more specifics on her lab and work on her faculty page on the University of Utah.

Samantha Brady

Name: Samantha Brady
Age: 31
Location: North Conway, NH
Occupation: President of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue

Samantha Brady moves mountains! This fierce outdoorswoman is the President of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue, a volunteer-run team that assists in aiding hikers who have become lost or gotten hurt.

Samantha Brady with the search and rescue!
Samantha Brady with the search and rescue!
As a child, she became acquainted with the rugged beauty of her state. Back in 1996, a man named Mike Pelchat founded Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue with a few of his friends. Years later Samantha met Mike while working on Mount Washington.

“As I grew fond of the hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I completely fell in love with what nature can provide to you,” Samantha explains. “I got involved when I got a job working for the Mount Washington Observatory, a non-profit weather station on the summit of Mount Washington and worked alongside Mike. As an avid hiker, I had read and heard of so many stories of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts getting into trouble in the mountains of New Hampshire and wanted to get involved somehow.”

Samantha got an application to join the team as a volunteer and began her journey searching, rescuing, and recovering hikers in her spare time. After serving five years as a volunteer, she was nominated to join the Board of Directors.

“My first year I served on the BOD as Secretary, and the following year was nominated and voted in to be President of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue,” she recalls. “It has been such an honor to volunteer with an organization with such unique and inspiring individuals who are willing to leave their long days of work and then spend hours upon hours in the middle of the night carrying people out of our mountains.”
Samantha Brady
Samantha’s full-time job is with the Mount Washington Observatory, but when a call comes in that someone needs help, she snatches up her search and rescue gear and heads to the given meeting location.

“A rescue mission could take anywhere from one hour to twelve or more hours depending on the location, conditions, and the type of mission. I have been on calls that have lasted from 4pm to 3am the next morning,” she says.

The goal of the Androscoggin Search and Rescue organization isn’t simply to save lives and find hikers: it’s to educate the general public of the risks and safety concerns that go along with being an outdoor enthusiast. These safety challenges pose risks to both those who are enjoying the New Hampshire terrain as a hobby, and for first responders.

“With social media being as popular as it is, many who have never dared to venture outdoors to do things such as hike a mountain to see a sunset or sunrise, may be influenced or convinced it’s possible,” Samantha explains. “I encourage everyone to get outside and experience nature once you have done your research on said adventures. Because a photo of a beautiful place that can seem easily accessible is not going to give the person the knowledge of information they may need to make their experience the best one possible.”

Samantha hopes to continue to encourage others to (safely) take chances and savor their adventures, may they be on the trail or inside of the cubicle. When she’s not rescuing hikers or at her day job, Samantha mountaineers, skies, ice climbs, trail runs, and rock climbs. She encourages her friends and colleagues to attempt excursions that they might think are impossible, and she espouses encouragement alongside them the whole time.

“The message I would like to share with young girls is that they should believe in themselves when others don’t,” she says. “Tell yourself you’re capable of achieving the things you want, and you will get them. When you are thinking about giving up, take a break, and then go back to it. Go back feeling stronger and wiser than the first time. Most importantly, empower others to do the same!”

For these words of advice, and for helping to the public to stay safe out in the wilderness of New Hampshire, we think Samantha Brady is a very Cool Girl!

We made a $200 donation to Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue to support the awesome work that Samantha and others do to save lives. We encourage you to make a donation too!

Karen Humphrey Sullins

Name: Karen Humphrey Sullins
Age: 47
Location: Montgomery, Alabama
Occupation: Owner- Helping Hands Professional Counseling & Consulting, LLC and Executive Director- Hearts Of Hope, Inc a 501(c)3 company

Karen Sullins is working hard to make a difference. This counselor has turned her compassion into action, founding Hearts of Hope after serving children and families who struggled with crime and poverty and realizing that their needs were simply not being met.

“Our purpose in communities is to offer support, provide education, and empowering youth to encourage better choices and resiliency, improving relationships, building character, and improving overall mental health and wellness by infusing hope and a sense of self safety alongside leadership skills,” Karen explains.

The path toward becoming a therapist began at the age of 11, when her parents summoned her for a family meeting where they discussed becoming foster parents.

“We were a middle class family with the median 3 bedroom, 2 bath home,” Karen explains. “One of our first long-term placements was a baby boy named Jonathan who has been shaken by his mom to the point of brain damage, and we were unclear how debilitating until he became 3-4 years old. Doctors at the best hospitals spoke of him having a life expectancy of age 5; they were wrong! Completely handicapped, he remained in a wheelchair his entire 21 years, never spoke, and never got up; however he touched everyone he came in contact with with his infectious laughter. Even surgeons were amazed at this child’s desire to live.”

After Jonathan, Karen and her family fostered more than 55 sexually abused girls, taking them into their home and sharing their lives and resources with them.

“I often look back at the simple letter I wrote at age 23 nominating my parents for “Parents of the Year” for their selfless serving and giving to children who otherwise would not have had normalcy,” she reflects.

Beyond her organization and counseling efforts, Karen has also been given the opportunity to speak to legislators about school safety, following her involvement with Sandy Hook Promise.

“I stumbled across Sandy Hook Promise following a training on Active Shooter-School Safety out of state. I signed up to be a Promise Leader in my small part of the world, and to share prevention programs, and speak to people about the violence occurring in our towns and communities; particularly in the school systems,” Karen says.

By working with the Sandy Hook Promise, Karen has helped to promote suicide prevention, support the “know the signs” program, and Say Something, which is an app that allows anonymous reporting of threats to the authorities.

After receiving an email from Sandy Hook Promise informing Alabama Promise Leaders that they could attend a listening session with the Federal Commission’s Department of Education panel from Washington, D.C. that was in town, Karen knew she had to attend in order to lend a voice to the debate over arming teachers in classrooms. She met with as many Administration members as she could on the Monday before, so that she could accurately represent those counties with the fervor and insight they deserved.

“There was a feeling of urgency that if I did not speak on behalf of those who could not; I may never get their little voices out there to be heard. When I spoke, I can honestly say that I could hardly remember what I said when I sat down,” she says. “I mentioned that the Federal Commission try prevention programs before going as far as arming stressed teachers. Teachers are educators, not police officers.”

And what advice does Karen have for young women?

“Find people and things that build your own armor, as life and people will most definitely disappoint you, but be brave enough to face disappointments, as an individual, as a young lady, and as a contributing part of the world that needs our insight and unique abilities, so that our future world is a place we anticipate being a part of,” she says. “Be courageous enough to be the difference.”

For her tireless service to the community, and her relentless desire to “stop the violence,” we think Karen Sullins is a very Cool Girl!

A $200 donation was made to Hearts of Hope on behalf of Karen. You can donate here.

Claire Koster

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Clair Koster HeadshotName: Claire Koster
Age: 18
Location: St. Louis, MO
Occupation: Student, STEM Instructor, Teaching Assistant, Volunteer

At only 18 years old, Claire Koster already has made an impact on her community, running the Women’s Advocacy Group at her high-school, volunteering at a homeless outreach center, assisting in a STEM program, studying to become an educator, and speaking out for those who confront societal challenges.

Her empathy and compassion are what spurred her to apply action to her emotion.

“When you see that there are obstacles keeping people from joy or security or happiness, those obstacles become yours, too, in certain ways. I have a younger brother with Down Syndrome who is the most fantastic human I have ever met in my life, and once I was old enough to understand that he would have a harder time living the life he desired than I may have, it made me want to understand what causes those sorts of obstacles and how they can be solved. That totally snowballed into caring deeply about the ways other forms of identity cause one to be marginalized,” she explains.

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Clair Koster with her brother standing in front of a river.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Claire took over running the Women’s Advocacy Group at her conservative, Catholic, all-female high-school after the founder graduated.

Trees with text: "Love has the kind of power cynicism only wishes it had." -Bob Goff“There were certain topics that pertain intensely to gender equality but we weren’t able to talk about as openly as we would have liked to because they did not align politically with Catholic values. That was certainly frustrating, but meant that we chose to take our conversations in a direction of opening a dialogue about gender and equality in a way that felt accessible to everyone. It was exciting to see how willing people were to enter into that dialogue,” she says.

Beyond her education and in-school advocacy, Claire also volunteered her services at the Marian STEM Club, an enrichment activity that was offered as part of their curriculum.

“Marian Middle School has an extended-day, extended-year model, so from 4:00-5:30 each day the students choose an enrichment to participate in. Each Thursday, we would come and do STEM activities with about 12 students,” she says. “It has been such a joy to get to grow in community with the students and learn with and from them.”

Text image: "The nonevent is the best part of life."Outside of school and supplemental activities, Claire also spends time at the St. Patrick’s Center, a homeless outreach organization, where she volunteers during their Women’s Nights, where they make, serve, and eat dinner with the women seeking shelter and assistance.

As she prepares for college, Claire looks forward to becoming a teacher herself.

“I’m currently majoring in secondary teaching, and I will study either sociology or english, or maybe both! I have been so incredibly impacted by teachers who have supported me and seen me as someone more capable than I saw myself. That sounds trite, but is such a deeply impactful thing. I can’t think of a better way to spend my life than to seek to do that for others.”

What wisdom does this brilliant young lady have for other young girls who, like her, are growing up and trying to do the best they can with what they were given?

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Clair Koster with her brother, close up.“I think that as we get older, we discover things about ourselves that prevent us from “fitting in” with the people around us. We’ve been told that, one day, these things will be our superpowers. But they certainly aren’t yet, or at least they don’t feel that way. My best advice is to learn to sit with those things. You don’t have to love them, you don’t have to show them off or build a life around them, but try your best not to push them down and away from you, because one day, you and I will both realize that they are superpowers, and we will want them back.”

For her maturity, poise, benevolence, and grace, we think Claire Koster is an incredible human being and one super Cool Girl!

A $200 donation was made to Marian Middle School on behalf of Claire. You can donate here.

Julz Nally

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Julz Nally.
Photo by Kim Nguyen

Name: Julz Nally
Age: 41
Location: Portland. Oregon
Occupation: Illustrator

At eleven years old, Julz Nally’s parents saw the way that their daughter had fallen in love with art and they enrolled her in watercolor lessons. It was that support and encouragement for creating that has led this Portland based illustrator to create Hummingbird Art Camp.

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Julz Nally Hummingbird Art Camp artwork.The idea for the camp came to her in the middle of working on an illustration project.

“I have over 20 years experience connecting with and teaching kids through art,” she explains, “So when the idea hit me that I could create my own art camp for girls, I ran with it immediately. I couldn’t think of a more joyful way to spend the summer than sharing my love for artful play and watching kids create in our own backyard.”

Julz decided to name the camp for the hummingbirds that visit her gardens and front porch throughout the year, as well as for the reminder that they provide to live a joyous, fulfilled, curious life. Providing a creative outlet for young girls during their downtime allows Julz to give back and foster a whole new generation of artists.

Her day to day life is also filled with artistry and inspiration; Julz is a self-employed illustrator after honing her wares out of college as a graphic designer, advertising art director, and apparel graphic designer.

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Julz Nally art for Hummingbird camp and graphics for clients side by side.

“I’ve been my own boss for the past 11 years now, starting with my a line of graphic jewelry that I used to create and sell as Handmade Julz, to now illustrating and designing for clients,” she says.

The collaborative process of working with clients allows Julz to create a final product while still allowing the clientele to have the freedom to dictate their vision and direct the project. Her solo work, however, is a very different animal.

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Julz Nally personal art: colored spoons with positive messaging.“The personal work that I create comes from my soul. Sometimes I make art inspired by what I’m eating which might become a pattern or something thought that comes to mind. When I’m just making art, it’s for me, and I will sometimes sell the original or a print if others are interested. I tend to ‘make art’ all day, in all aspects of life because that is the way my mind works. The world is full of magic and inspiration, it just takes slowing down to listen and take a closer look. Always keep a sketchbook and pencil nearby,” she advises.

That’s not to say that she lives her life cloistered away in her studio.

“I find that I’m happiest when I balance my week with time out of the house socializing, so I work that into my schedule in small ways. Currently, my typical day consists of figuring out our daily camp activities for Hummingbird Art Camp & designing and painting a piano for Piano. Push. Play. for summer 2018,” she says. (Piano. Push. Play. is a group that rescues pianos and puts them in several locations around Portland for the public to play and enjoy.)

In the future, Julz hopes to continue illustrating, both for clients as well as book publishers.

“I hope to collaborate with a friend on our own book one day filled with ideas for getting creative with nature and connecting with all of that magic within,” she says.

Sock It to Me Cool Girl Julz Nally and daughter Juniper
Photo by Jena Coray

Even more exciting, next year Julz and her family will be going to New Zealand for a family art residency. Her eight-year-old daughter, Juniper, will co-teach a few workshops with her mother while the family is there. “It’s an amazing thing to dream up an idea and work towards that goal, believing that anything is possible,” Julz says.

And what aspirational words does Julz have for other fledgling artists and whimsical girls?

“You are unique and beautiful. Your differences are what make you so special. Keep dreaming big because if you believe that you can, anything is possible. Love yourself and who you are becoming.”

For her loving and lovely vision of the world and the art to be made within it, we think that Julz Nally is a very Cool Girl!

A $200 donation was made to Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP) on behalf of Julz. You can donate here.