Three Oglethorpe students present research at international genetics conference

Three Oglethorpe University students recently presented their undergraduate research to an international audience at the Allied Genetics Conference in Washington D.C. Mackenzie Roberson ’24, Jaely Chavez ’24 and Thalia Boston ’24 were selected from applicants across the country to present their discoveries.

The Allied Genetics Conference is a distinguished scientific research conference organized by the Genetics Society of America to promote collaborative advancement in the field of genetics. Scientists from across the globe participate to display their research and share their ideas.

In addition to presenting their work, the young scientists took full advantage of the professional opportunities provided by the conference.

“I learned so many new things during this trip, it is almost too much describe!” says Roberson. “This experience was a valuable networking opportunity as after a graduate Oglethorpe I am planning on attending graduate school to obtain my Ph.D. in molecular genetics. At the conference I was able to connect with some of the top scientists in the field. I also got to learn more about cutting-edge techniques in the field of molecular genetics.”

Mackenzie Roberson, Thalia Boston and Jaely Chavez and Dr, Karen Schmeichel at the Allied Genetics Conference 2024

Dr. Karen Schmeichel, Jaely Chavez, Mackenzie Roberson and Thalia Boston at the Allied Genetics Conference 2024.

After a last minute cancellation, student Jaely Chavez was tapped to expand her five-minute talk into a full, 12-minute presentation about her research. She was joined by Roberson, and together the two students spoke about their research with C. elegans, a type of nematode often studied to understand biological processes.

“All of the students were well received and commended by established scientists for their science and their elegant styles of presentation,” says Professor of Biology Dr. Karen Schmeichel. “The data they presented were paradigm shifting in the field and I hope as they go forward, this experience adds to their identities as scientists and their abilities to bring strong and creative voices to their chosen fields.”

All three students presented research made possible through Oglethorpe’s unique research pipeline program. Course-embedded Undergraduate Research Experiences, or “CUREs,” ensure that every science student receives hands-on experience as part of their core academic journey. This approach to science education emphasizes student engagement and the development of students’ laboratory skills — an approach not often seen in traditional research colleges.

Despite Oglethorpe not being a traditional research institution, the selection of these students is a testament to the strength of the university’s STEM programs, all of which are bolstered by a state-of-the-art research facility, the I.W. “Ike” Cousins Center for Science and Innovation, and faculty dedicated to student success.

Opportunities like this also serve to bolster students’ identities as scientists, particularly for students who do not often see themselves represented in STEM fields.

“Because I am the only one in my family studying science, sentiments of doubt and imposter syndrome have occurred and I wondered if I belonged in this field,” says Boston. “Being able to present research that I worked very hard on and present it in front of fellow science enthusiasts gave me a sense of achievement and pride in my role in this discipline. Overall, I am very grateful to have experienced this opportunity and it taught me that wherever I desire to be is where I belong.”

Chavez also felt the impact of the opportunity.

“This experience has made me more confident in asking questions, holding conversations with other scientists, practice using a skeptical approach when presented with data, and being proud of representing my community as a Latina — which all have prepared me for my future plans of attending medical school,” says Chavez.

All three students will graduate this fall. Chavez and Boston both plan to attend medical school, while Roberson will enter in to a Ph.D. program for molecular genetics, having already received several acceptances to major research institutions.

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