Tia Eskridge '17 and Lisa Peterson '81

“I spent most of my time in the lab with chemistry graduate students, so I’ve gotten a good idea of what it takes to succeed in a graduate school environment.” –Nathan Rackstraw ’17

Of the more than 80 Mac students who conducted science research this summer, at least five worked in the labs of Macalester alumni. Sometimes it resulted from a faculty recommendation; sometimes it was fate—smart, ambitious students find that smart, ambitious alumni came before them to the same organization. All are grateful that scientist alumni have a vested interest in them.

Chemistry major Nathan Rackstraw ’17 (Bethesda, Md.) worked with the University of Minnesota’s Haynes Research Group, headed by Christy Haynes ’98. His research explored the toxicity of engineered nanoparticles in the environment.

“Industrial production of nanoparticles for a variety of applications is skyrocketing,” says Rackstraw, “and not much is known about how these nanoparticles interact with biological systems once they get out into the environment. I spent most of my time in the lab with chemistry graduate students, so I’ve gotten a good idea of what it takes to succeed in a graduate school environment.”

Having done on-campus research for two summers, Puleng Moshele ’16 (Leribe, Lesotho) sought out a new experience at the Cape Town HVTN Immunology Laboratory (CHIL), a division of the Hutchinson Center Research Institute of South Africa. Upon applying, she learned that the lab director, Erica Andersen-Nissen ’98, is an alumna. There Moshele analyzed immune responses to HIV and TB vaccines, work critical to developing effective vaccines. “My experience at CHIL has been a great learning experience not only for my future career prospects,” says Moshele, “but also my interpersonal communication skills.”

Robyn (Log Su) Park ’16 (Northridge, Calif.) conducted biochemistry research at Georgia Tech, where the principal investigator is Pamela Peralta-Yahya ’03. As part of this REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates), Park worked on developing a biosensor constructed in yeast cells that could result in a biodiesel more efficient than the D2 diesel currently used in cars. After this experience, Park wrote, “I developed a deeper appreciation for research in biochemistry and I know I want to pursue science after Mac.”

Tia Eskridge ’17 (Hopkins, S.C.) took part in the Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the University of Minnesota, where she worked in the lab of Lisa Peterson ’81 in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health. The focus was on chemicals in smoking that may contribute to tumors.

“I incorporated skills that I gained from general and organic chemistry,” says Eskridge. “I also gained experience working with high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and an understanding of the planning and cooperation it takes to work with other labs as well as your own.”

Kareem Ismail ’17 (Pasadena, Calif.) and Kaan Salcin ’17 (Begze Kocaeli, Turkey) worked in the lab of Ray Runyan ’72, professor in Cellular and Molecular Medicine, at the University of Arizona. Professor Runyan has taken on Macalester research students over the summer for several years.

In geology, there is also a long history of alumni bringing current undergrads under their scholarly wing. Most recently, Ilian DeCorte ’15 (Southhampton, Pa.) was a field assistant with Madeline Marshall ’12, now a PhD student at the University of Chicago.

Macalester students realize the value of these extraordinary opportunities and appreciate the alumni who have opened their labs to them and maintain an interest in their education and future success. Students present their summer research at the annual fall poster session at Macalester and it is always exciting when alumni mentors are able to attend.   

November 18 2015

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