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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 Achievements

Isaiah Cochran, senior biology pre-medical major, obtained a Research Experience for Undergraduates at Harvard University, focusing on autism spectrum disorder in the summer of 2014. Cochran was also elected to American Medical Student Association’s (AMSA) Global Health Chair in the spring of 2015.

Dr. Bryan Hamilton, professor of biology, took a group of students to the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) National Convention in Washington, D.C., from Feb. 27 to March 1, 2015. 

Michelle Hopkins, junior environmental science major, conducted an Environmental Protection Agency stream assessment summer internship in the summer of 2014.

Derrion May, junior marine biology major, completed an internship with Clemson Camp Sewee program as a Marine Science instructor/counselor in the summer of 2014.

Catelynn Pagone, junior forensic science major, completed an internship at Pittsburgh Zoo/Aquarium in the summer of 2014.

Dr. Janet Paladino, associate professor of biology, and Quincy Hathaway, senior environmental science major, were guests of the Greene County Conservation District in November 2014 for their project, “The Use of the Ames Assay to Detect Adverse Biological Effects Resulting from Exposure to By-Products of the Coal and Natural Gas Industries.” Hathaway also studied nanotechnology through a Research Experience for Undergraduates at West Virginia University in the summer of 2014. 

Dr. Wayne Rossiter, assistant professor of biology, was a speaker at the 2014 Momentum Conference for Teens for Christ in July. Dr. Rossiter also signed a contract to become an editorial subject chief for the Journal of Coastal Life Medicine in December of 2014.

Marietta Wright, assistant professor of biology, received the 2015 Lucas-Hathaway Teaching Excellence Award for a faculty member with teaching excellence in introductory subject.

Tagged in: biology news
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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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Posted by on in Alumni

b2ap3_thumbnail_Rachel-Lovely.jpgThree items topped Rachel Lovely’s wish list when it came to making a decision for her undergraduate career. Her list — a solid education, a personal relationship with her professors, and an environment that would allow her to study what she loved while playing the sport she enjoyed — has proven to have contained all the appropriate qualifications to prepare her for a successful future.

“Waynesburg offered me this and then some,” she said.

Lovely, a Waynesburg University biology alumna and a first-year student at The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is working toward her medical degree with the hope of one day becoming a surgeon.

The combination of growing up in a medical family and discovering her love of science has allowed Lovely to recognize her calling.

“My father is a podiatrist, so I really got a first-hand look at the humanistic side of medicine from a young age. I've wanted to be a doctor since I can remember, but when I found my niche in science, I knew it was the field I was called to,” she said.

During her college summers, Lovely periodically volunteered in the operating room, and during her junior year, she was part of an internship program called Mentoring in Medicine. These experiences revealed a more specific path and kindled her interest in the surgical field.

“There was always something magical about the operating room. It was the one place, that I saw anyway, that it was just you and the patient, no distractions. I really liked that unwavering focus,” she said.

Lovely said her Waynesburg education, coupled with the close-knit relationships with her professors, are largely responsible for paving the way to where she is today.

“I cannot boast enough about [Waynesburg University’s] Biology Department,” she said.

Specific mentions of Dr. Christopher Cink, associate professor of biology, Dr. Bryan Hamilton, professor of biology, Dr. Chad Sethman, associate professor of biology, and Marietta Wright, assistant professor of biology, further demonstrate the emphasis and importance Lovely places on relationships and how they aid success.

Lovely said that through these professors, whom she refers to as geniuses, she learned how to truly understand, not just memorize, the information taught in class. She also credits humor and dedicated mentoring for the extent of her learning.

Along with her positive experiences with faculty, Lovely credits the culture of learning at Waynesburg University for the growth she has experienced.

“Waynesburg challenged why I did things, what I believed, and even how I thought. I really liked that. It allowed me to have a deeper understanding of science, religion, psychology and just interacting with people in general. I went from Roman thinking, ‘how do you,’ to thinking more like a Greek, ‘why do you’,” she said.

In addition, Lovely said her four years at Waynesburg helped her to “have a deeper understanding of what Christianity meant personally."

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