Two KWC students get major research experience

By Dariush Shafa, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Monday, August 8, 2011

Two students from Kentucky Wesleyan College got a chance to take part in an advanced university-level research project, thanks to a connection between a KWC professor and a research lab leader and professor in Georgia.

Dr. Evelyn Hiatt, an associate professor and chair of KWC’s biology department, previously studied at the University of Georgia, focusing on the area of maize genetics.

Kelly Dawe, a professor who runs a research lab at the school and that Hiatt studied under, received a National Science Foundation grant that allowed Hiatt and two KWC students to join the research.

The research focused on how corn cells reproduce at the cellular level and the way corn passes on traits from one generation to the next.

Hiatt said the value of this kind of research is that it looks into the genetics of a major food crop and knowledge gained from this could potentially be applied to help eliminate or cure diseases in humans or animals eventually.

“It’s not just us maize people going off,” Hiatt said. “Basic research is important because the more you can add to the knowledge base, the more potential there is for the future.”

For the students, Hiatt said this kind of work is especially valuable.

“I think that at Wesleyan we provide our students with a really good educational foundation. Trying to help them find opportunities to get experience outside the classroom is very important to their development as scientists, to their career choices,” Hiatt said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for personal growth for them, it’s a great opportunity for growth as a young scientist.

“In practical terms, it looks good on a job application, a grad school application or a med school application. It’s going to look good when they move onto the next stage in their career.”

Josiah Zachary, a 20-year-old chemistry junior from Slaughters, was one of the students who took part in the research.

“It was just very, very interesting. I feel like it was the very specific field Dr. Dawe works with and not a lot of other people work with in this area. It was on the cutting edge and it was new knowledge we were working on,” Zachary said.

“I feel like it was just a great opportunity. I’m so thankful that I went to Wesleyan because I got the opportunity to do it,” he added. “If I’d went anywhere else, I don’t know if I’d have been able to do it.”

Andrew Donovan, 22, of Denver, was the other student from KWC who took part in the project.

“It was a beneficial environment. A lot of times, lab environments can be pretty stressful,” Donovan said. “They were very patient with me and my inexperience in the lab. They helped me get through very difficult situations in the lab and it went really well.”

Hiatt said she hopes the students also walked away with more than just a learning experience.

“Science is fun,” Hiatt said. “I think that’s one of the most important things I can do, is share an enthusiasm for science and research, exploring the unknown in whatever area you are interested in. Hopefully, that enthusiasm comes across.”

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