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Posted by on in Alumni

Recent biology graduate Andrya Durr knew that she wanted to pursue a career in biology from the time she was in seventh grade.

With a passion for medicine, Durr wants to dedicate her life to helping people with their health issues because of what she has experienced in her own life.

“My mother has a combination of Addison’s disease and Fibromyalgia,” she said. “My long-term goal is to find an effective, steroid-free treatment for Addison’s patients.”

Accepted into the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program at West Virginia University for the fall of 2016, she will be conducting research in four-week lab rotations that will expose her to different types of experiments, ultimately selecting a specific lab and research project for her program.

As a student at Waynesburg, Durr said she was prepared with the knowledge that she needed to further her education in biology. Durr credits the research requirement for allowing her to prepare and run her own experiments. She also recognizes her professors for helping her decide what she wanted to pursue after completing her undergraduate degree.

Dr. Chad Sethman was Durr’s mentor throughout her four years at Waynesburg and was always available to answer questions and provide assistance. Durr’s research mentor was Dr. Wayne Rossiter, whom she speaks very highly of as well.

“When I started my research project, I was preparing for medical school, but once I completed my first semester with [Dr. Rossiter], I cancelled my Medical College Admission Test, signed up for the Graduate Record Examinations and applied to the research program at West Virginia University,” said Durr.

In the research field, it is of utmost importance to work with integrity, which Durr said she learned at Waynesburg.

“My education at Waynesburg has made me more honest and humble as a person,” said Durr. “It has always been difficult for people to combine faith and science, but Waynesburg helped me to do it perfectly.”

Durr said that she has wanted to create positive change for people her entire life, and through the biomedical sciences program, she is going to have a career she is proud of, but most importantly, she will be doing work that serves others.

“Waynesburg shaped me as a person by encouraging me to explore and to never be afraid of taking chances,” said Durr. “If you always do what makes you comfortable, you’ll never see your full potential.”

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Posted by on in Internships

b2ap3_thumbnail_Ansley-Thomas.JPGThis summer, Ansley Thomas is preparing for a future as a college professor by immersing herself in college education research. Thomas, a senior biology major, is participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Georgia.

“My favorite experience is being here surrounded by people who are passionate about teaching undergraduates and who demonstrate how invested and proactive they are about their teaching,” said Thomas.

Thomas is working side-by-side with Dr. Tessa Andrews, assistant professor of genetics at the University of Georgia, and Kelly Lane, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, on investigating the professional identities of graduate students.

“Specifically, we are interested in how they [graduate students] develop and what they look like when they do,” said Thomas. “I help mainly with data collection by finalizing the transcripts from our interviews and assisting with qualitative analysis coding.”

One of the most challenging aspects of Thomas’ work has been gaining familiarity and comfort with the qualitative data, which she shared, and is different from typical bench work in the way that it is handled, collected, analyzed and written. Fortunately, her coursework at Waynesburg has been helpful in providing her with a solid starting point.

“All of the biology courses I have taken give critical background knowledge for this kind of research,” said Thomas.

Thomas is thankful for the opportunity to be surrounded by the biology education researchers at the University of Georgia. The type of education research they are conducting is different than any work she has experienced in the past.

“Having research experience opens you up to the community of research as a whole and to the process of research,” said Thomas. “Acquiring that skill or knowledge is useful regardless of your future plans.”

Being that this experience has related so well to Thomas’ career goals, she feels confident that she is in a strong position to make them a reality.

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Posted by on in Internships

b2ap3_thumbnail_Rachel-N_20150806-182248_1.jpgUpon her arrival at her internship in an unfamiliar jungle located in a foreign country, Rachel Narasimhan, as one might expect, felt a bit homesick. However, she received comfort from an unlikely source, in the form a baby howler monkey named Stevie. After that moment, she never looked back.

This summer, the Waynesburg University senior biology major spent a month as an intern at Aloutta Sanctuary, a rehabilitation and research center located on the Chiriqui Peninsula of Panama, observing and working with monkeys like Stevie. During her time at the sanctuary, she was able to work with many different types of monkeys, including two capuchins, two Geoffrey’s Tamarins and two baby howlers.

While there, Narasimhan was provided with many opportunities to interact with and observe these monkeys, taking on responsibilities such as providing enrichment for them and watching and recording any behaviors they might exhibit that are typical to monkeys in captivity. Each day, she spent nearly an hour documenting howler behavior in order to compile an ethogram, an inventory of every behavior exhibited by the howlers during the period of time in question. It was through observations such as these that she learned how to read and interpret their facial expressions and body language, so as to improve her interactions with the monkeys.

“It is one thing to see them in photographs and to learn about their behavior in a textbook, but nothing compares to seeing it in person,” Narasimhan said.

She was also able to bond with these animals through activities such as grooming sessions and cuddling with the babies. To prevent the monkeys from becoming bored, the interns often rearranged the branches in their enclosure or hid food in interesting places for them to find, tasks fun for both the monkeys and the staff.

In addition to working with the monkeys, Narasimhan spent time studying the effects of teak harvesting in a local teak plantation on the animals that live there. Despite being profitable, teak plantations are often devastating to local mammal populations. However, she found that through collecting the teak in a way that leaves the understory rather than completely removing it, the plantation will be more sustainable.

“Conservation and sustainability are the reason for all of our work at Aloutta, and I [enjoyed] learning about how to make the world a better place, one step at a time,” Narasimhan said.

Narasimhan feels as though she was truly blessed to have had the opportunity to spend part of her summer at the Aloutta Sanctuary. The experience has showed her how much she enjoys working with animals. Upon graduation from Waynesburg University with a major in biology and a minor in psychology, she hopes to be able to continue doing the type of work she experienced during her time in Panama.

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Posted by on in Alumni

Julie Tischer, a 2013 biology alumna, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Microbiology Department at the University of Georgia.

Beginning her third year in the program, Tischer is studying the CRISPR-Cas system, an adaptive immune system in bacteria and archaea, and is fascinated by the ways tiny organisms influence the planet and public health. Specifically, Tischer is studying the function of the system and how it integrates small fragments of invading genetic elements, such as viruses, into its own genome. These fragments, according to Tischer, are then used to detect the invader if it ever returns again, recruiting proteins to chop up the foreign nucleic acid.

“Microbiology in general has so many broad impacts on the world, from industry to health care,” Tischer said. “CRISPR research, specifically, is revolutionizing science through its use as a gene editing tool. The CRISPR field is rapidly moving towards possibly one day being able to cure genetic diseases, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Studying the foundational mechanisms involved in the CRISPR-Cas immune system is allowing us to try things we never knew were possible.”

Tischer’s interest in the field dates back to her seventh grade life science teacher who inspired her to study biology in college. Years later, Tischer’s interest grew into a calling as a result of the support and encouragement of Dr. Chad Sethman, associate professor of biology at Waynesburg University.

“I was particularly inspired by Dr. Chad Sethman, from whom I took many courses, including microbiology. That was my favorite course by far, and sparked my enthusiasm to pursue the field for my graduate research,” she said.

From her microbiology course, Tischer developed an interest in becoming a part of discovering how organisms function, and how they can be useful to humans, she said. According to Tischer, “each and every one of [her] professors at Waynesburg University led [her] to where [she is] today,” but scientifically speaking, she said, her biology professors, and the personal relationships she shared with each of them, helped her to develop into a “competent research scientist.”

Tischer also credits her Waynesburg University education for granting her the opportunities necessary to be accepted into a selective graduate school program.

“Choosing Waynesburg University allowed me to have a variety of experiences I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to at a large institution,” she said. “Waynesburg University provided me with all the foundational tools necessary to have a successful graduate career in research.”

Upon graduation, Tischer plans to pursue a career in teaching — a career that she says will allow her to give back to future students.

“I have had so many influential mentors and teachers in my scientific career, and I really want to make a similar impact on developing scientists. I have such a passion for helping people get excited about science and research, and love to see that moment when something finally clicks in a student,” she said.

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Posted by on in Alumni

b2ap3_thumbnail_Seth-Polk.jpgSeth Polk, a Waynesburg University biology alumnus and a first-year student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, has been inspired by the health sciences and fields involving laboratory research his entire life. Although he deems it both a blessing and curse, as a child, Seth was constantly plagued with injury (a majority sports-related) that caused him to spend an unimaginable amount of time in hospitals.

“As a result of growing up in hospitals, the hospitals grew on me,” he said.

Polk is pursuing a master’s in biotechnology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and also plans to seek his Ph.D.  Upon completion of his education, Polk has an interest in joining the United States Navy, providing service to a country that he says “has given so much to [him].”

Polk comes by his desire to serve his country from the example set by his father, a retired United States Navy Lieutenant Commander who gave 25 years of service to his country. As a result of growing up in a “Navy family,” Polk recognizes the impact of the opportunities that potentially await him.

“The armed forces provide vast and advantageous resources for health care research,” he said.

His desire to research in the field of cell biology in relation to immunological responses can be attributed to his mother’s recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

“She gives me inspiration,” he said.

Polk undoubtedly hopes that his work will one day “uncover a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.”

Polk credits his Waynesburg University education for his preparation for graduate school and beyond.

“Waynesburg prepared [me for my future] by providing excellent practical laboratory experience while maintaining strong lecture of underlying theory,” he said.

Polk also credits unmatched professors and dedicated mentors for his research skills, his understanding of the scientific process and “the push required to mature in the laboratory sciences.”

As for his Waynesburg University experience as a whole, Polk sums it up with one word — responsibility.

"Responsibility is the word I think of when I see the Seth Polk of today versus the Seth Polk of four years ago, and I have Waynesburg to thank for that characteristic,” he said.

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