Supporting the Asian Community in Charleston, South Carolina – Joyce Menon

The Islands Society is proud to recognize Dr. Joyce Menon as the Sea Islands Female Leader for the month of March. Since 2008, she has been studying lung cancer in a research lab at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Separately, Dr. Menon has volunteered with the India Association of Greater Charleston (IAGC) for the last eight years, and has provided executive leadership in organizing and hosting India Fest for three consecutive years in Charleston in an effort to promote understanding and appreciation of Indian Arts and Culture. In addition to her work with the IAGC, she has been involved with a fundraiser for Mitchell Math and Science Elementary, a local school in Charleston; a summer educational program for inner city kids at St. Julian Devine Community Center; and the installation of the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in Liberty Gardens at Pinewood Elementary, the first in the state of South Carolina. The managing director of the Sea Islands Society, James Carroll, therefore reached out to Dr. Menon to discuss her accomplishments and her efforts to promote cross-cultural awareness through her work with the IAGC.

What are you currently researching at the Medical University of South Carolina?

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. More people die of lung cancer than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer and the current chemotherapy drugs used to treat it have only limited efficacy. One of the reasons of this resistance is because the cells are undergoing Epithelial to Mesenchymal (EMT) transformation and this is currently being studied in our lab.

Please tell me about your involvement with the India Association of Greater Charleston. Why do you feel it’s important to highlight Indian arts and culture in Charleston?

I have been involved with India Association of Greater Charleston (IAGC) since 2005. I have been a Secretary (4 yrs) and a President (2 yrs) and am now the co-chair for its Events Planning Committee. One of the aims of IAGC is to promote an understanding of the culture and heritage of India within the Charleston community. We believe that strong bonds of friendship are built when mutual respect is borne as a result of this exchange.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the Asian population of South Carolina is only 1.5% of the total population. This is far lower than the national average of 5.4%. Do you feel that South Carolina is an unattractive place to live for immigrants from East Asia, Southeast Asia, or South Asia?

Most immigrants from the Indian subcontinent to United States are either medical or IT professionals. Since South Carolina offers a limited number of industries and institutions in these fields, the percentage of that demographic is also low. Now that we have large industries like Boeing and BMW openings plants in this area, we should see an increase in this population. Moreover, I have seen a steady increase in the hiring of professionals of Indian origin at MUSC.

Have you ever faced challenges because of your ethnicity or gender?

I have been blessed that ethnicity and gender has not played a part in my life as a working woman and later a working mom in South Carolina. However, I am very well aware about the challenges women (regardless of their ethnicity) face in this country. But, the great thing about being an American is that you have the freedom of speech to voice your opinion, and bring about changes through grass root awareness.

A recent study found that South Carolina ranks 50 of 51 states (including the District of Columbia) in women’s well-being. What do you think needs to be done to improve this dreadful ranking?

There is a high correlation between poverty and the level of education amongst women in our society. Investing in educational programs for women – whether it’s for young girls, mothers or grandmothers – would be the best “Return On Investment.” Giving vocational training to women would go a long way in improving the situation. I am a firm believer that while educating a man will save a family, educating a woman will save the world. Including women in strategic and long-term policy making decisions would be a step in the right direction.

What advice would you give to young women and girls from island communities who want to pursue a career in medicine?

As our population gets older, we will need more medical professionals to join the ranks. The recent emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs at high schools is certainly going to help. But, pursuing a medical profession requires a significant commitment and individual sacrifice. As a society, we should provide an environment that is supportive to the challenges women will face in balancing personal life and work. This is where I believe society can help by providing certain benefits that will help alleviate the load on women. One good example of this is the recent campaign to provide maternal and child care benefits to working mothers.


Local Female Leader
Local Female Leader

Dr. Joyce Menon at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). She is also the past president of the India Association of Greater Charleston.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: sandeepachetan via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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