Hollins Presents 63rd Annual Science Seminar, April 5 – 8

 

 

Hollins will highlight the dynamic research that has been conducted by the university’s science and mathematics students during the 2020-21 academic year at the 63rd Annual Science Seminar, April 5 – 8.

 

 

The four-day virtual meeting will celebrate scientific research and inquiry through:

  • Student research presentations in both oral and poster formats
  • Separate student/faculty panels exploring research in biology/environmental science, chemistry/physics, mathematics/statistics/computer science, and psychology
  • An alumnae panel exploring research in STEM fields
  • A keynote address

“Though we have been pressed by the pandemic, we have continued in our quest to expand our mathematical and scientific understanding of the world around us,” said Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Renee Godard.

The 63rd Annual Science Seminar begins on Monday, April 5, with two sessions considering the process and value of doing research in STEM fields. During “Conversations about Research with Students of Science and Math” (4:45 – 5:45 p.m., ET), student panelists will discuss how they found research opportunities, describe what lessons they learned and skills they gained during their research, and explain how this has prepared them for their future. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

The evening session, “A Conversation with STEMinist Alumnae in Research” (6:30 – 7:30 p.m., ET), will be led by recent Hollins alumnae who are actively pursuing careers in research in psychology, environmental science, biomedical technology, and chemistry. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

On Tuesday, April 6, the Science Seminar will explore research in biology/environmental science and mathematics/statistics. “Exploring Research in Biology and Environmental Science” (4:45 – 5:45 p.m., ET) will feature biology and environmental science faculty and students, who will discuss their ongoing research at Hollins. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

Also from 4:45 – 5:45 p.m., faculty and senior majors in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science will talk about “Exploring Research in Math, Statistics, and Data Science.” Students will make short presentations about the current state of their research, and faculty will speak briefly about their own research areas. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

“Senior Research Presentations” (6:30 – 7:30 p.m., ET) will highlight two Hollins seniors who are exploring research projects at the intersection of biology, environmental science, and mathematics/statistics. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

Day Three of the Science Seminar, Wednesday, April 7, will be devoted to research in chemistry/physics and psychology. “Exploring Research in Chemistry and Physics” (4:45 – 5:45 p.m., ET) features chemistry and physics faculty in a conversation about their areas of research followed by separate discussions with students presenting research posters. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

Susan Campbell
Neurobiologist Susan Campbell of Virginia Tech is the keynote speaker for the 63rd Annual Science Seminar.

“Exploring Research in Psychology,” also from 4:45 – 5:45 p.m., spotlights faculty research, student research posters, and various research opportunities for students. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

That evening from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m., ET, “Senior Research Presentations” will showcase two seniors who are conducting research projects in chemistry and psychology. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

On Thursday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m., ET, the 63rd Annual Science Seminar will conclude with a keynote presentation by Susan Campbell, an assistant professor of animal and poultry sciences at Virginia Tech, entitled “Mechanism of Seizure Development: Switching Roles and Gut Feelings.” Campbell completed her Ph.D. in neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her scientific career has been focused on studying epilepsy and mechanisms involved in seizure development. Campbell’s research group is investigating novel mechanisms that lead to seizure development by combining electrophysiology and clinically relevant seizure models. Preregister for the Zoom meeting link.

 

 


SW Virginia Is A Lyme Disease Hotspot. Hollins’ “Tick Lady” And Student Researchers Are Discovering Why.

Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Elizabeth Gleim is a disease ecologist whose research centers on the study of zoonotic diseases (those that can be directly transmitted between animals and humans) and vector-borne diseases (infections that require transmission through vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes). But a lot of people at Hollins and beyond who are familiar with her work simply know her as the “Tick Lady.”

Ever since she was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, Gleim, who is also a Hollins alumna (class of 2006), has investigated tick-borne diseases. “There are three main areas on which my research questions focus,” she explained. “The first is identifying ways to better control and prevent tick-borne diseases, especially in the human population but also in domestic animals. I also do a lot of work in vector and disease dynamics, which can vary dramatically based on the ecosystem or the region of the country, and even just from year to year. The other piece is trying to better understand anthropogenic drivers, which is how humans are affecting tick-borne disease risk with their actions or behaviors, and then understanding environmental drivers of disease risk, which can include changes in weather, forest management practices, wildlife population changes, and other factors.”

Gleim’s passion for her work has remained constant. “One of the first things that drew me to this discipline is the fact that I get to do both lab and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy. It’s also been wonderful in terms of offering a wide array of research opportunities to Hollins students.”

Liz Gleim Outdoors
Gleim’s interest in tick research began in graduate school. “I get to do both lab work and field work, so there’s a lot of variety that I really enjoy.”

Over the past 18 months, Gleim has been involved with two major research projects. The first involved studying the impact of a process known as “prescribed fire” on the risk of tick-borne disease, which was published in the July 10, 2019, edition of Scientific Reports. This investigation was prompted by the fact that, over the past several decades, both the emergence and incidence of tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease have risen dramatically. The challenge for scientists and disease ecologists has been to find ways to reduce and control tick populations and mitigate the risk of tick-borne disease, especially in humans. For years, prescribed fire has been used to successfully manage forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other types of landscapes.

The first phase of Gleim’s research looked at how fire impacts tick abundance and seasonality. The second phase, which she brought to Hollins, focused on whether fire might also affect the pathogens that circulate in the ticks. It was the first study that had ever been done to examine the effects of prescribed fire on tick-borne pathogens themselves. Gleim spent two years doing field work in Southwest Georgia and Northwest Florida, “and collected a whole lot of ticks – 50,000 of them. I then tested almost all of those ticks for all known tick-borne pathogens.” She determined that while prescribed fire did not affect all pathogens, it did impact some. Furthermore, fire greatly reduced the density of ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria in an area and showed a 98% reduction of encounter rates with infected ticks.

“The findings here were exciting and promising, and led to some interesting questions that I hope I can explore in the years to come. First, would we get the same types of dramatic reductions in ticks that we observed if we did this work in other ecosystems or other regions of the country or even the world? Second, could prescribed fire reduce Lyme disease risk specifically? Where I did this work in Georgia and Florida, Lyme is not endemic (e.g. does not occur). It’s at least possible that it could affect the pathogen that causes Lyme.”

The dynamics of Lyme disease in the United States have evolved considerably over the past two decades. As recently as 2001, Lyme cases were seen primarily on a limited basis in New England and the Midwest. However, just 16 years later, Lyme was common everywhere in the Northeast and had begun to spread to other parts of the country.

“By 2017, the western region of Virginia was at the leading edge of what would probably be considered a Lyme endemic area with a distinct hotspot developing in Southwest Virginia,” Gleim said.

Liz Gleim Ciera Morris
Ciera Morris ’19 (right) collaborated with Gleim to study black-legged tick dynamics in the Roanoke Valley.

Jory Brinkerhoff, a professor at the University of Richmond, collected black-legged tick (the vector of Lyme disease in the eastern U.S.) nymphs, the life stage particularly associated with Lyme cases in humans, at four sites on an east/west gradient across the state. He found the greatest number of nymphs at his western-most site and the highest level of the Lyme pathogen there, but it was just one site. “We all know in science that you can’t draw any firm conclusions from just one place,” Gleim said. She, Hollins Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson, and then-senior Ciera Morris ’19 set out to understand black-legged tick dynamics in the region, particularly in Southwest Virginia’s hotspot.

For Morris’ senior honors thesis, the team established 12 sites around the Roanoke Valley area to collect ticks on a monthly basis for an entire year. They collaborated with an Old Dominion University tick ecologist collecting ticks in the eastern part of the state that same year. “We found a significantly higher number of black-legged tick nymphs and larvae in the Roanoke region versus the Norfolk area,” Gleim said. “What’s notable though is that we do not have significantly more adults. It seems to indicate that we don’t necessarily have more black-legged ticks in the western portion of the state.” However, they are more forcefully engaging in a particular kind of behavior.

“It turns out ticks don’t jump or fly. The only way they get on a human or animal host is to physically brush up against them. For a tick to get on a host, they crawl up to the tops of vegetation, grass, or low-lying plants, and they wait for something to brush up against it. We call that behavior ‘questing.’”

Leemu Jackson '20
Leemu Jackson ’20 conducted genetic analysis to verify whether black-legged ticks are migrating into Southwest Virginia from the northeastern U.S.

Gleim cited previous studies that demonstrated ticks in the Northeast quest much more aggressively than those in the Southeast. “Ticks in the Southeast tend to stay down in the leaf litter and therefore are unlikely to come into contact with humans. Thus, a migration of ticks from the North into Virginia via the Appalachian Mountains is a possibility.”

Using some of the groundwork laid by Morris and Shravani Chitineni ‘21, and in collaboration with Gleim, Brinkerhoff, and Hollins Professor of Biology Rebecca Beach, Leemu Jackson ‘20 performed her senior honors thesis last year doing a genetic analysis to compare Roanoke-area black-legged tick populations to those elsewhere in order to verify whether migration was occurring.

“We did what we call a phylogenetic analysis, which is sort of a fancy way of saying we created a family tree of all the different ticks we were testing from Roanoke as well as the state of Virginia and the entire eastern U.S.,” Gleim said. “That analysis compared the DNA sequences of all these ticks and showed how similar those sequences are and thus how related they are to one another. What we discovered was a really high genetic diversity here in the Roanoke area, more so than what we’re seeing in the eastern part of the state. This does not definitively prove that ticks are migrating into Virginia, but it certainly provides some evidence to support that hypothesis.”

Another factor that Gleim believes may be contributing to the prevalence of Lyme in the Roanoke Valley involves human dynamics. “In a lot of urban or suburbanized areas, people don’t spend a lot of time outside. But that’s simply not the case here. We have an outdoor-centered lifestyle, so there’s a large number of people who are spending a lot of time outdoors in an ideal tick habitat.”

Shravani Chitineni ‘21
Shravani Chitineni ’21 is exploring methods to effectively control Lyme disease risk.

The “Tick Lady” emphasizes there is still much work to be done. She hopes to submit Morris’ senior thesis for publication in the next month or two (“She’ll be first author on that paper, which is really exciting.”).  In addition, “Shravani has picked up where Ciera and Leemu have left off – she’s a senior who is doing her thesis with me right now. She’s getting to do what she really loves, biostatistics, and she’s working on a Lyme simulation model with an ecological mathematician at Old Dominion University and myself. We’re examining different control methods that might be used to effectively control Lyme disease risk, particularly in different regions of the country.

“My hope is that over the next six months or so, we can get published the work that Leemu and Shravani have been doing. And down the line, we may begin to examine other tick species and pathogens in addition to further exploring our questing behavior work.”

Watch Gleim’s presentation, “The Battle Against Lyme Disease and Beyond: The Fascinating Intersection of Ecology and Public Health,” part of the Faculty Authors and Achievers series sponsored by the Wyndham Robertson Library.

 

 

Photo Credits:

Elizabeth Gleim at the microscope and in the field: Nancy Evelyn

Elizabeth Gleim with Ciera Morris ’19; Leemu Jackson ’20; Shravani Chitineni ’21: Elizabeth Gleim

 


Accessing Our Network: One of Hollins’ Greatest Strengths

My Hollins University experience began differently than most students. Growing up on the campus had a significant impact on my early development. I was able to witness intelligent, strong, and creative students that went on to do amazing things. My mother, Jeri Suarez (Hollins’ associate dean of cultural and community engagement), and all of her students became the best role models a girl could ask for during her formative years. I was surrounded by love and empowering figures from an early age, and that continued to grow as I did. I have seen what Hollins can do for its students, firsthand, and when it came time for me to pick a school, I couldn’t think of a better fit for me.

The opportunities that I have had over the last four years have been unique and rewarding. Had I gone to another institution, I may not have received the tremendous mentoring, opportunities to develop strong research skills, or traveled the world as I did. At Hollins, helping students succeed and reach their fullest potential is the norm, not the exception.

I found my love of research at the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, which provided the outlet to conduct psychological experiments and examine the real-world implications. I fell in love with the process, the emotional rollercoaster that is caring about something enough to dig deeper. Going into my first year at Hollins, I knew that I wanted to conduct research that would be impactful. Over the last four years, I had many opportunities to conduct my own research and assist in many others. In the psychology department, there are options to conduct research through classes but also working closely with professors on their research projects. At the end of my first year, I was given the chance to work in the child development laboratory with Associate Professor of Psychology Tiffany Pempek. This invaluable time in her laboratory strengthened my research abilities, interpersonal skills and confidence. The course I took on research statistics with Professor of Psychology Bonnie Bowers is something I access daily in my current position.

Each year, the Career Center and the Office of Alumnae Relations host the Career Connection Conference (C3), a wonderful event for current students to talk with alumnae and to hear their career advice. During my second year, I met Lauren Staley ’11. She worked at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Lauren spoke about her time at Hollins and the experiences she had working with the non-profit organization. I knew that was a path I wanted to pursue. She gave me her contact information and said that I could stay in touch as I explored my career path.

The summer between my junior and senior years, I received a research internship at the Addiction Recovery Research Center (Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC), while working on my senior honors thesis. It was time to explore my future plans. My goal was to gain additional work experience, conducting research at a professional level, before entering graduate school. I wrote to Lauren Staley in the fall of my senior year to ask for her advice about applying to work for AIR. She connected me to a former colleague who helped me immensely in the application process.

Applying for a job becomes more daunting in the face of a global pandemic. But, by accessing the Hollins network, as well as my college preparation, I had the confidence to pursue a position with AIR. I was offered an interview with the organization. Due to COVID-19, the process was a 2.5-hour interview over Skype with multiple researchers. Although it felt intimidating at times, I was well prepared and confident in my abilities and able to showcase them.

I have been working at AIR for two months now. I split my time between two departments: the Annual Reports – Digest of Education Statistics team and the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. These two divisions are committed to increasing the effectiveness of education at every level through research, analysis, training, and assistance in the technical field. AIR’s commitment to research and evaluation provides important insight for policy makers and practitioners with which to guide implementation of certain programs, techniques, and funding. I have since gained new skills in programming, data checking, writing research proposals, and website design. I am honored to be working at this incredible organization.

Hollins helped me develop my skill set and confidence to take chances and to dream bigger. At 19 years old, I did not realize that a 15-minute conversation with an alumna would lead to my first professional position. I thank everyone who helped me on this journey.

 

 


Casey Mahan ’20 Prepares to Fulfill Her Dream of Becoming an Optometrist

Casey Mahan ’20 has wanted to become an optometrist since high school, and throughout her time at Hollins she gained a wide range of valuable experience in the field.

“My desire to practice optometry really solidified during my sophomore year when I traveled to North Dakota to work with a nonprofit organization called OneSight, which provides eye exams and glasses to children and adults who can’t afford them,” she says. “The following year I spent J-term working with Dr. Vin Dang, an optometrist in Bakersfield, California. I was able to shadow him as well as other optometrists and ophthalmologists, and view surgeries. As a senior I interned at a small optometry practice and loved every aspect of it, especially the relationship between doctor and patient.”

The biology major/chemistry minor from Virginia Beach says she began researching schools of optometry when she entered Hollins, and from the moment she talked with the Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), “I knew it was where I wanted to go, especially because of the early clinical experience they offer. I was also impressed with PCO graduates and what they had to say about the school. Obviously grades and coursework are a top priority for admission, but there’s also a heavy emphasis on getting to know students at the personal level during interviews. Optometry school is rigorous: It takes four years, including three summers, and they need to ensure students are well-prepared as undergraduates.”

Mahan is confident she is ready for the challenges ahead, thanks to both the “student” and “athlete” experiences she has enjoyed. “The biology department played an integral role in my acceptance to PCO, especially Associate Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson. When he became my advisor, he discussed with me the exact coursework I needed to take, when to take it, and how it could make my application stronger. He was always realistic with me about my goals. My friends at larger universities didn’t get the same personal connections with all their professors that I had, and I am forever grateful to Hollins for that.”

As captain of the Hollins volleyball team, which set the program record for victories in a season last year, Mahan believes she “became a better person, leader, and mentor, and better able to adapt to my surroundings. I learned valuable lessons about team dynamics and how they differ from year to year.”


Through Graduate Studies at American Univ., Kiki Speights ’20 seeks to “make sure communities’ voices are heard”

Uniquely blending ethics with international studies, American University’s Master of Arts in Ethics, Peace, and Human Rights focuses on “preparing students to be ethically informed thinkers and practitioners in the analysis, development, and application of policy responses to contemporary global issues.”  With her impressive aspirations, it is understandable why Kiki Speights ’20 would be drawn to a program that prides itself on producing graduates “who go on to find and facilitate peaceful and ethical solutions to the world’s most daunting international challenges.”

“I hope to gain more knowledge in international issues, the progression of human rights, and environmental degradation,” she explains. “I also hope to be able to take advantage of research and study abroad opportunities. I want to make memorable connections within the program and with the people I meet around the world.”

The environmental science major/social justice minor from Gaston, South Carolina, says she has been especially inspired by her study abroad experiences through Hollins.

“When I traveled to Tanzania through the School for Field Studies program, I originally wanted to study zoology. However, after going on a couple of expeditions, I realized that studying large wildlife was not something I wanted to do all my life. I also learned some controversial factors concerning large wildlife conservation practices that didn’t sit right with me.”

Having taken classes such as “Socioeconomics and Policy,” Speights was drawn instead to the study of communities in the East African nation on a micro level.

“I was able to obtain information through one-on-one interviews, taking part in community meetings, and just connecting with people on a human level. I learned that just because certain conservation practices can be sustainable for animals to survive doesn’t always mean they are sustainable for human life, especially for people who are native to those regions.”

Speights performed directed research on the “Impact of Habitat Degradation on Butterfly Status in Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem in Northern Tanzania.” She says she discovered that “it is important to employ sustainable practices so that ecosystems are not degraded, but at the same time make sure that there are many sustainable alternatives so native people who live within those ecosystems are able to survive as well. Through this research I realized that I wanted to address environmental justice in marginalized communities.”

Another powerful experience for Speights was a summer internship she completed through Pre-College University, a program that gives students of color opportunities in fields in which they are demographically underrepresented such as environmental sciences. She worked as an outreach intern for the Department of Energy in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“During the internship, I assessed the effectiveness of uranium workshops that were being conducted in Navajo Nation. I sat in on chapter house meetings and federal government meetings and focused on how to communicate scientific information in a way that’s understandable. Listening to traumatic stories of the effects of uranium mining and contamination was not an easy task.” Subsequently, Speights presented her findings to the Department of Energy and offered suggestions on improving the workshops to accommodate the needs of the Navajo people.

While she admits that “doing this type of work is not for the weak-hearted,” Speights says she “loves being beside communities fighting for human rights, sustainability practices, gender rights, and public health issues to make sure their voices are heard.” After she finishes her Master’s program, she plans on living abroad for a couple of years working in the human rights career field.


Hollins Researchers Partner With Other Universities To Study Impact Of COVID-19 On Tick-Borne Illnesses

Two Hollins professors are collaborating with scientists from four other universities to determine if the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the time people spend outdoors and if that change could result in increased exposure to ticks or tick-borne diseases.

Elizabeth Gleim
Elizabeth Gleim (Photo Credit: Nancy Evelyn)

Elizabeth Gleim, assistant professor of biology and environmental studies, and Meg du Bray, a visiting assistant professor in environmental studies at Augustana College who will be joining the Hollins faculty this fall as an assistant professor of environmental studies, are working with researchers from the University of Georgia, Duke University, Clemson University, and the University of Rhode Island on a new study entitled, “Investigating COVID-19 Impacts on the Epidemiology of Tick-Borne Diseases in People and Pets.”

“We’re examining whether people are spending more time outside due to COVID-19 restrictions and whether this might be affecting them, their families, and/or their pets’ (if they have any) risk of contracting a tick-borne illness,” Gleim explains.

Gleim and her fellow researchers are inviting any person 18 years or older who resides in the United States or Canada to fill out a short survey that “should only take about 10 to 15 minutes of your time,” she notes, “or less if you do not have children and/or dogs.”

The research team is hoping to have as many people as possible participate in the study. “We encourage everyone to please share the survey with any individuals or groups that you think would be willing to complete it,” Gleim says.


CIC Report: Underrepresented Students Succeed in STEM Fields at Small and Mid-Sized Institutions

Women are more likely to earn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees on time at small and mid-sized colleges such as Hollins than at other types of institutions, according to a new report commissioned by The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC).

Strengthening the STEM Pipeline Part II: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges in Preparing Underrepresented Students in STEM, authored by NORC at the University of Chicago, finds that among women earning STEM baccalaureate degrees from private nonprofit nondoctoral institutions, 78 percent graduated within four years, compared to 23 percent at public nondoctoral institutions, 50 percent at public doctoral institutions, and 67 percent at private doctoral institutions.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Of all the women who started their college careers majoring in STEM fields at private nonprofit nondoctoral institutions, 61 percent persisted in STEM fields, the highest rate for women across all institutional categories.
  • Students who earned STEM baccalaureate degrees from private nonprofit nondoctoral institutions later attained graduate degrees at higher rates than graduates from public nondoctoral and doctoral institutions.
  • Nearly all black and Hispanic STEM graduates of private nondoctoral institutions were satisfied with the quality of their undergraduate education.

“A crucial feature of a strong U.S. STEM workforce is that it fully leverages the nation’s innovative capacity by engaging all segments of the population, including groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM fields,” the report states. “Private nonprofit nondoctoral colleges show the highest persistence among women, blacks, and Latinos/Latinas in STEM fields within five years of first baccalaureate enrollment when compared to similar students at other types of institutions. The data show highly positive assessments of interactions with faculty at private nonprofit nondoctoral institutions among historically underrepresented groups.”

The report concludes, “The analysis demonstrates the critical importance of the private nonprofit nondoctoral sector in preparing its graduates for STEM doctoral study, especially for women STEM graduates in chemistry, biology, life sciences, and physical sciences, fields in which the private nondoctoral sector excels as the training ground for future STEM doctorates granted to women.”

The report, available for download here, extends research contained in Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges, which was published in 2014.

Hollins is a member of the CIC, an association of nonprofit independent colleges and universities, state-based councils of independent colleges, and other higher education affiliates that works to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of private higher education’s contributions to society.


With Tick Study, Ciera Morris ’19 Launches Career in Tackling Infectious Disease

When biology major Ciera Morris ’19 wanted to challenge herself by completing a voluntary senior thesis, she sought a project that would reflect her interest in infectious disease research as it relates to public health. Collaborating with Assistant Professor of Biology Elizabeth Gleim and Associate Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson, she found the perfect vehicle: Exploring tick ecology in southwest Virginia and its possible connection to the risk of Lyme disease.

“Given there are a lot of public health implications in regard to tick research, working with Dr. Gleim and Dr. Wilson was the best option for me,” Morris says. “We decided my project should focus on species composition and the abundance and phenology of ticks in southwest Virginia to better comprehend disease ecology in the Roanoke Valley. This included understanding what tick species are present and what times of the year they are active.”

“Her project has been incredibly intensive involving a year of monthly filed collections of ticks at sites all over the Roanoke Valley,” Gleim explains. “She collected almost 20,000 ticks and did a lot of lab work, too.”

With the sheer volume of ticks involved, Morris notes that the process of analyzing the ticks she gathered will have to be continued by other students after she graduates. But, she adds, “I could see this study being published in a couple of years or so.”

Another highlight of Morris’ undergraduate career was a signature internship two years ago with Climate Central, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that performs ecological research and produces nonpartisan information regarding climate change. During that January Short Term opportunity, “I was investigating the impact of wildfires on air quality and human health in California and Washington State,” she says.

Morris’ impressive record of research has earned her a two-year, post-baccalaureate fellowship at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana. The facility is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s a really impressive fellowship,” Gleim states. “Some of the premier research on tick-borne diseases has historically come out of the Rocky Mountain Laboratories,” including the discovery of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

“I’m primarily going to be looking at how pathogens are transmitted to hosts, and how disease development occurs out of that,” Morris says. “I’ll be working with and learning from a laboratory team that brings different backgrounds of knowledge and skills. I’m excited because I think it’s going to be a good transition from dealing with tick ecology to viral research in general. It’s a good stepping stone to where I want to be.”

After completing her fellowship, Morris expects to go on to graduate school and pursue either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. focusing on infectious disease. Whatever path her career ultimately takes, she is confident her experience as a student-athlete has given her the tools to maintain a healthy work-life balance. A member of the Hollins soccer team for four years, three of which she served as team captain, Morris says her professors supported her active participation in interests outside the classroom while her coaches encouraged her to pursue undergraduate research.

“Continuing that type of balanced relationship with both academic and extracurricular interests is important. It teaches you a lot as you move into a career setting.”

 

 


Through NIH Research, Biology Major Continues Working Toward Goal of Attending M.D./Ph.D. Program

Last summer, biology major Sunny Greene ’19 was part of a research team in the Undiagnosed Diseases Program (UDP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One of only 1,300 students chosen to work in the program from over 10,000 national and international applicants, Greene spent 12 weeks investigating a rare genetic disorder called Chediak-Higashi Disease (CHD), of which there are only 300 cases known worldwide.

The NIH experience offered Greene valuable credentials and crucial preparation for achieving her goal of gaining acceptance to one of the nation’s highly selective M.D./Ph.D. programs, so she was delighted when the UDP invited her back this summer to continue her research into CHD.

“I was back in the same lab working with the same people, but this summer’s research focused on a different facet of the disease,” she explains. “Last year, I primarily conducted tissue culture experiments on fibroblast skin cells, but this year I was studying CHD’s neuropathology.”

While the classic CHD case affects children and is characterized by partial albinism, easy bruising, prolonged bleeding and clotting issues, and immunodeficiency, adult sufferers of CHD are prone to experiencing neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s: balance issues, motor skill loss, and/or some developmental delay. “We have no idea what causes these neurological symptoms, so I did a lot of experiments on the neuropathology of the mouse models of CHD.”

Greene zeroed in two factors that cause Parkinson’s, the first being Purkinje cell loss in the cerebellum. “This part of the brain is located at the base of the skull and Purkinje cells are responsible for the cerebellum’s role in managing motor function. One theory is that Purkinje cell loss or death might cause Parkinson’s, because if you lose them, they never grow back, and you’re going to lose motor function over time.”

She also explored a particular pathway in the brain that, if not functioning correctly, could create symptoms of Parkinson’s. “An enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, or TH for short, is part of this pathway and it converts the amino acid L-DOPA into dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps in part to regulate movement. If TH isn’t functioning properly, you’re stuck with just L-DOPA and you’re not going to have enough dopamine.”

While this research shows promise, Greene says much of her work proved frustrating. But, she found that her experience with failure as a researcher last summer with NIH was invaluable in building her persistence and resilience.

“What I learned from my epigenetic reading is that the essence of research is that you’re not trying to prove anything, you’re trying to disprove something. In order to be successful, you have to fail. Goodness knows, I failed so many times this summer, but I was more prepared for it having gone through it the previous summer.”

Greene was also ready to handle lab politics for the first time. “The research world can be dog-eat-dog and very competitive. Sometimes egos get into the way of each other. But I drew upon my experience from the Batten Leadership Institute (BLI) at Hollins to deal with that, and as a result I feel that someday I can be a successful leader in the lab.”

Greene says she is tentatively planning to work at NIH again next summer as a springboard to gaining one to two more years of solid research experience, a prerequisite for many M.D./Ph.D. programs. In the meantime, she’s enjoying her senior year experience at Hollins. “It’s a time to reflect and enjoy where you are and who you are, and so honestly my goal this year is to have fun with that. I’m taking Latin 101 and learning about Roman culture, and I’m also taking a theatre appreciation class because I’ve always loved theatre, and I’m mentoring students through BLI.

“I want to do things to make myself a well-rounded person. M.D./Ph.D. programs want to see that. Of course, they want to know that you are dedicated to your science, but they also want to know what you’re doing outside of that to enrich your research.”

 


Summer Internships Prep STEM Students for Postgraduate Success

Four rising Hollins University seniors who intend to pursue careers in STEM fields got the chance this summer to intern at one of the nation’s foremost academic medical centers.

Biology majors Ya Gao and Assma Shabab and chemistry majors Veronica Able-Thomas and Rania Asif spent eight weeks in June and July working at the NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan.

“Growing numbers of Hollins students are interested in STEM fields,” said Karen Cardozo, Hollins’ executive director of career development. To help STEM students become more competitive candidates for postgraduate education, she called upon her brother, Timothy J. Cardozo, who is an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at NYU Langone.

“Tim generously agreed to open a special Hollins pipeline to his lab at NYU for a pilot program this summer,” Karen Cardozo explained. “As an interdisciplinary researcher with dual degrees, he’s an especially flexible mentor, able to support students with a wide variety of interests.”

The internship program furthers Timothy Cardozo’s relationship with Hollins. Last April, he participated in a “PreMed Plus” panel at the university, joining alumnae and others who hold a variety of roles in a range of healthcare fields. He also provided informal mentoring to students especially interested in the M.D. and/or Ph.D. tracks.

Karen Cardozo praised “the incredible generosity of Hollins also who stepped up immediately as donors when the opportunity arose to place these students at NYU.”