biology Tag

By Maegan Murray

Demi Galindo, a master’s student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, recently received a call that would change the course of her life.

She had been accepted to medical school. Better yet, she had received a tuition waiver for her four years of medical education, with the exception of two semesters during her third and fourth years – an acceptance package that is incredibly rare.

“Most people will tell you to not expect to get these, so I feel incredibly grateful to have received this package,” she said.

At WSU Tri-Cities, Galindo maintained a 3.8 grade-point average as a pre-medical student. After graduating last spring, she took on the incredibly difficult task of earning a master’s degree from WSU Tri-Cities in biological sciences in a single year, which she plans to have completed by the end of this spring semester. But it was the research opportunity and mentorship from a WSU Tri-Cities professor that she said truly set her apart from other applicants.

In her junior year as an undergraduate, Elly Sweet, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of biology, approached Galindo about a research opportunity that not only would give her a leg up on her competition for medical school, but also had ties back to medicine.

Mentorship leads to opportunity

Sweet is one of many mentors participating in WSU Tri-Cities’ Million Women Mentors program. Through the program, female students are paired up with female mentors who are successful in related fields. Sweet currently mentors approximately 80 students in the general biological sciences, both male and female, of which many are pre-health students.

“Dr. Sweet has done a lot for me in my undergraduate years, from being an excellent teacher for medical school prerequisite classes, which is how we met in my human physiology class,” Galindo said. “Throughout the semester, I could come to her for questions regarding class materials. During one of our meetings, she mentioned the chance to do research in Dr. Jim Cooper’s lab, which I was not even aware of prior to this.”

Through the research opportunity, Galindo worked under the direction of Cooper and Sweet studying the effect that the over and under abundance of thyroid hormone has on zebrafish jaw formation, of which they hope to use for advancements in human health in the future.

“We’re trying to determine what is causing these changes in the development of the fish, which may be translated to learning more about human skull deformities in humans,” Galindo said.

Using own mentorship experience to lead students to greatness

Sweet said she had a mentor while she completed her schooling, and that it served as a tremendous asset. Her mentor, Diana Darnell, mentored her while she was an undergraduate.

“She was an amazing biology professor,” Sweet said. “I worked as an undergraduate researcher in her lab where I had my first exposure to the world of developmental biology research. Dr. Darnell was not only an excellent professor; she was always there for her students outside the classroom.

“I valued her presence and guidance throughout my undergraduate years. Ultimately, she led me to my first job and graduate school in developmental biology,” she said.

Sweet said what is most rewarding about serving as a mentor, herself, for the biological sciences is that she can help students pursue their passions. She said she is relatively new to the role, and that her first main group of students she’s mentoring is graduating and getting accepting into medical schools this year.

“Students first come to my intro to biology classes as shy freshmen trying to find their place,” she said. “They are hard-working students from a variety of backgrounds. By their senior year, they are eager and ready for their next steps beyond WSU Tri-Cities. I enjoy helping them pursue their dreams.”

Looking toward the future

In addition to directing her toward her research experience, Galindo said Sweet helped her with academic planning, gave her advice in the application process for medical school and was overall a great person to talk to when she was feeling stressed.

“Overall, she has just been a great person to turn to and I can be straightforward with her since she knows me so well,” she said.

Galindo said she encourages students to start conversations with their professors because, especially at a smaller campus like WSU Tri-Cities, the one-on-one connection and support is immensely valuable.

“Students may not know where to turn to for advice on this whole process, so I advocate for getting involved in extracurriculars and don’t be afraid to talk to your professors,” she said. “I think some of my success came from the fact that I just went and talked to my professors and was noticed for this with such small class sizes. The opportunities just started to expose themselves.”

Galindo will start medical school this August. From there, she said she is thinking about a career in family medicine or neurology.

“I think because of the diverse cases and schedule of family med, this is where I will most-likely end up,” she said. “I would like to have a joint practice with several other physicians as this will give me the flexibility to have a family, too.”

Galindo said she hopes to stay humble with her aspirations, while providing the best quality of care possible.

“I want to be a physician that people in my community know for having excellent care, as well as a physician that will listen to them and be on their team when it comes to their health,” she said.

For more information about WSU Tri-Cities’ role with Million Women Mentors and how to get involved, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/mwm/. For more information about the organization, itself, visit https://www.millionwomenmentors.org.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Four Washington State University professors are pairing up with high school teachers in the Tri-Cities this summer to complete research in viticulture and enology, bioproducts engineering, plant pathology and biological sciences through the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust’s Partners in Science Program.

MJ Murdock Charitable Trust is providing $13,000 to each high school teacher participating, which may go toward research, professional development and other educational resources.  Each team will also receive $2,000 to cover the costs of lab supplies during summer research opportunities in WSU laboratories.

The goal of the program is to bring knowledge from the research lab into the high school science classroom, promoting hands-on science education. The WSU professors will serve as mentors to each of the high school teachers as they complete the research throughout the course of two summers.

Viticulture and enology

WSU Tri-Cities newsThomas Collins, a WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of viticulture and enology, is working with Frederick Burke, a science teacher at Chiawana High School, to characterize different grape varieties by region, utilizing a process known as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.

“The process allows us to identify specific chemical profiles in each grape type, which will be used to identify markers associated with the various grape varieties.” Collins said. “The markers will be incorporated into statistical models that would be used to predict the grape varieties used to produce an independent set of Washington state wine samples.”

Biological sciences

WSU Tri-Cities newsElly Sweet, a WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of biological sciences, and Jim Cooper, a WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of biological sciences, is working with Amy Verderber, a teacher at Kamiakin High School, to study the impact of thyroid hormone on zebrafish jaw development.

The team is performing development shape analyses of the skull and record and analyze high-speed video footage of fish feeding, in addition to zebrafish husbandry, specimen collection, specimen preparation and photomicroscopy.

“This study is strongly relevant to human health, since there are a large number of human craniofacial disorders associated with alterations of thyroid hormone in blood levels,” Sweet said.

Bioproducts engineering

WSU Tri-Cities newsXiao Zhang, a WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of chemical and bioengineering, is working with Robert Edrington, a science teacher at Southridge High School, to synthesize new functional materials from cellulose, the largest renewable polymer on earth.

Zhang said there is large interest in the application of cellulose nanocrystallites (CNC), which are the elementary units that construct crystalline cellulose from plants.

“My group has previously synthesized a new biocomposite material from CNC for small-diameter replacement vascular graft application,” he said. “The objective of this research is to synthesize new functional materials from CNC.”

Plant pathology

WSU Tri-Cities newsNaidu Rayapati, an associate professor of plant pathology at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, is working with Emily Jordan, a science teacher at Chiawana High School, to study the gene sequencing and genome diversity of economically important grapevine viruses.

“The teacher will gain hands-on experience in molecular biology and state-of-the-art gene sequencing and bioinformatics technologies to elucidate genome diversity of the viruses for practical applications in vineyards,” Rayapati said.

“The experience will help the teacher introduce new concepts of scientific inquiry in the classroom to inspire students interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields,” he said. “We hope to pursue innovative strategies with the K-12 school systems in the Yakima Valley for strengthening higher education in STEM fields.”

Classroom application

The WSU professors are also working with the high school teachers to develop lesson plans, potential course projects and more based in the research they conduct at WSU.

“This partnership will strengthen both the high school program, as well as the research and college science program, by adding a new perspective to the research teach and new tools to use in the classroom,” Cooper said.