For 10 MTSU undergraduate students and researchers, Wednesday, Feb. 15, marked not just another opportunity to present their STEM-based research projects, but to also show off their work to state officials and peers and rub elbows with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee at the annual Posters at the Capitol event.
The MTSU cohort joined 41 other undergraduates from public universities across the state at the Cordell Hull Building to participate in the event, put on by MTSU’s Tennessee STEM Education Center, that also included personal meetings with state representatives, lunch and a short address from Lee.
Even President Sidney A. McPhee, on hand for a budget hearing, made sure to stop by and learn more about the variety of research projects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math being conducted by Blue Raider students.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for students to be able to engage with their legislators and for their legislators to know more about their undergraduate research,” said Kevin Ragland, associate director of the Tennessee STEM center and event organizer. “It’s important for their legislators to know that undergraduate research exists and to know the scope of what they’re able to do as undergraduates.”
Lindsey Tran, a junior in the biochemistry program, said the research opportunities available through the university’s Undergraduate Research Center, or URC, and the support of her faculty mentor, physics professor Daniel Erenso, changed her academic life.
“I wanted to become a surgeon, but now that I’m doing this research, I want to be a surgeon and research as well, so I can use both of my education pathways to improve the medical field,” Tran said.
The Antioch, Tennessee, native worked on an ongoing project to find the minimum effective dose of radiation to treat cancer and said presenting at multiple events, like Posters, has helped her grow in so many ways.
“It’s improved my way of speaking to a variety of audiences, from experts to people who are in different fields,” Tran said. “It’s helped me grow into an adult, having to do things like learning what business casual (attire) is.”
Jesse Scobee, a senior in the Department of Biology from Spring Hill, Tennessee, worked on a project looking for novel therapies to treat pediatric neuroblastoma cancer under the mentorship of April Weissmiller, biology professor.
Scobee said Weissmiller and the Student Organization for the Advancement of Research, or SOAR, have prepared him well for his future goal of becoming a physician assistant.
“She’s (Weissmiller) fantastic, and I learn so much from her all the time,” Scobee said. “Dr. (Jamie) Burriss at the URC is so nice, so helpful and a great resource. Through her and SOAR, I’ve been introduced to other grants and scholarships. I’m traveling to the U.K. for a research conference, which I’m extremely excited about, and it’s all funded by the URC and the Biology Department, so it’s been invaluable.”
Under the guidance of faculty mentor Anthony Newsome, a biology professor, Murfreesboro resident Hunter Brady, a senior general science major, investigated whether chlorine dioxide gas could eliminate viruses off surfaces.
“The URC has been a cornerstone of my experience at MTSU,” said Brady, who will attend medical school next fall to specialize in urological oncology. “The URC and Dr. Newsome provided me references for medical school … and getting experience talking to people who have either no interest or no prior knowledge of the world of microbiology or disinfection has taught me a lot about how to communicate effectively, and it’s important that physicians know how to communicate effectively.
“Being able to have opportunities like this has helped me develop as a person, as a researcher and as a student.”
Brady, along with Marzea Akter, a senior in the Department of Psychology and a native of Bangladesh, India, met with Dawn White, state senator for Murfreesboro’s district, to share about their projects.
Akter, who will attend dental school next fall, researched whether therapeutic oxytocin could be an effective treatment option for people with autism.
“I’m always fascinated by what they’re studying,” White said. “It is amazing to me their dedication…. It really gives you hope for the future to say, ‘This is what MTSU is turning out, and our future looks bright.’”
Other participating Blue Raider researchers included chemistry students Janna Abou-Rahma and Matthew Johnson, engineering students Emaa Elrayah and Jonathan Duke, life sciences student Lacon Parton and math student Isaiah Osborne.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)