All hail the science nerds

Last month, Muhlenberg found out that we dropped in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. And because I am proud of our academic institution, the lowered rankings hit me fairly hard; I think Muhlenberg is better than what the ranking attributes us to be.

A particular feature of Muhlenberg I took pride in previously and invest more pride in as of lately is one of my fondest secret weapons at this school—our science departments. Within our science department resides the powerhouse of independent, student driven research.

I know how important this work is from my own first-hand experience.

One significant award just catalyzed a huge step in advancing a certain student-research-fueled biochemistry lab and its associated projects. Dr. Keri Colabroy, Associate Professor of Chemistry, was recently awarded a three-year grant from the prestigious Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Not only is this $294,000 grant an incredible resource for Dr. Colabroy and the growth of her career and research, it’s a game-changer for the students currently involved in the lab and any future students who join the research.

“This NSF grant will advance the Colabroy Lab in so many ways,” explained Katy Mayer 18’, a senior biochemistry veteran in the Colabroy Lab. “The grant also allows Dr. Colabroy’s research to be embedded into one of the core courses for the biochemistry major, and the students’ independent projects will allow the project to continue on a larger scale and from different angles throughout the year”

In addition to expanding research opportunities within the biochemistry curriculum, Mayer was excited about the other immediate impacts the grant facilitated. “Because of this grant, Dr. Colabroy can accept more students into the lab and allow more students to stay for the summer,” said Mayer. “Just a few weeks into the semester, we’re already noticing that the lab is a bit livelier and excited about our work!”

I’m enthusiastic for the forthcoming research from the Colabroy Lab, and offer congratulations to the students who are fortunate to become directly involved in the research and the continued growth of student research at Muhlenberg.

I know how important this work is from my own first-hand experience in the lab. I can attest to how hands-on, fulfilling, and remarkable student research is. Beginning with my sophomore year, I enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with Dr. Marten Edwards, entomologist and professor of biology, and my peers, in a research project aimed at assessing the abundance of ticks and the prevalence of ticks infected with human-borne pathogens within the Lehigh Valley. If you’re still reading this and haven’t been scared away from the fact that I work with ticks (yes, we have to actually collect ticks in the field, crush them up and extract their DNA so we can test), I can tell you it’s a thoroughly fulfilling project. We test ticks for the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease and three other rarer pathogens. I’ve been lucky enough to spend two summers here paid for by grants from Muhlenberg and support from the Lehigh Valley Health Network. My work allows me to inform scientists, local health care providers and residents of the Lehigh Valley about these ticks and the disease-causing agents they carry.

Research is significantly different from a normal classroom experience — quizzes and tests that focus on ‘the right answer’ are replaced with investigations and open-ended questions. There are no right answers, just  a research process, the scientific method and a learning process. Machines break, results don’t always make sense, human error happens (gasp!) and troubleshooting forces you to think on your feet and adapt to the unpredictable. My experiences have personally made me adaptable and generally more inquisitive in my classes.

Perhaps the most impactful moments in your college education are immeasurable. They may not help U.S. News & World Report college rankings, but if they exponentially help expand our future successes, isn’t that more important?


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