Faces of the Pack: Blesethe West challenges itself by pursuing undergraduate research

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Ever since high school, Blesethe West knew she wanted to pursue undergraduate research in college. So when Tanya Kelley, director of undergraduate research, gave a presentation to her Honors 109 class about the research opportunities available through their office, West was interested. However, she was hesitant to apply.

“I doubt myself all the time, so when I want to do something, I tend to walk away from it,” West said. “But I saw that the Research Experience Program (PREP) Pack was specifically for first-year and second-year students [and encouraged participation] underrepresented communities. I didn’t think I would make it, but I told myself that I could still try.

After the presentation, she checked the Undergraduate Research website and contacted Kelley for more information on how to get started with PREP, a research award designed specifically for freshmen and sophomores who prioritizes students from historically underrepresented communities or first-generation students. In this program, undergraduate students are paid to work on a research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Since she plans to go to medical school in the future, she felt it would be a great way for her to gain valuable academic experience early on.

West is also a part of Honors College and the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), both of which have been helpful resources in his college journey. The Honors College exposed her to many different ways, including undergraduate research, to further develop her academic abilities. AMSA has also been beneficial because they have “great opportunities that allow you to help people but also help you pursue activities that can help you get an idea of ​​what you might want to do, or even things you you don’t like,” West said. .

She was accepted to PREP for the spring 2022 semester and is now working with her faculty mentor Steven Frese, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources. West is currently pursuing studies in nutrition, so developing research with Frese provided an opportunity to learn more about his specialty.

“Steve is amazing,” she said. “Everything we do in the lab, he explains why and how it is useful in research. If I have any questions about anything regarding the lab, he is more than willing to help me figure it out. For me it’s big because [I’m reluctant to go into] environments where I don’t feel wanted. But when I’m in the lab with everyone, I feel like I’m part of the lab.

For their research project, they are studying how different types of bacteria can reduce inflammation in the gut. West said it was important because “inflammation is important to people’s health. A lot of people suffer from inflammation, so finding a way to reduce inflammation and somehow prevent it will be a huge breakthrough for medicine. So far, West has learned more about the different lab processes related to their research, which has helped her feel more comfortable and confident in a lab environment.

“We need people from diverse backgrounds with diverse experiences to ask the questions other people haven’t asked, to find the gaps that haven’t been addressed yet, to answer those important questions,” said PREP mentor Sarah Mitchell. “Getting those research experiences will be something no one can take away from you, and you can always put it on your resume or CV.”

Steven Frese is just one of many faculty mentors available through PREP. Sarah Mitchell, assistant professor of human development and family sciences in the College of Education and Human Development, is another example of a faculty mentor supporting the program. In his lab, they focus primarily on a large research project called the Intersecting Identities and Relationships study, a mixed-methods study examining different identities, how certain identities intersect, and the experiences of those who hold these different identities. There are several sub-projects carried out under this “umbrella study”, including one on the importance of labeling in identity.

Sarah Mitchell (right) and undergraduate researcher Talaya Flicop in front of the Flicop poster presentation

Mitchell has mentored undergraduate research since fall 2020 and said the availability of these types of opportunities is valuable because “research can sometimes be daunting or can seem like it is for certain subjects, subjects, or people,” and the PREP makes it more accessible for students.

One of his goals as a mentor has been to follow the research process as much as possible during their time together, so that mentees can get a realistic sense of what research is.

“Research takes time,” Mitchell said. “I want [students] to understand the different parts, and so I encourage starting from the beginning of a process instead of just saying “oh, here’s that project that’s already underway, you can just jump on it”.

Mitchell and Frese’s mentorship demonstrates the strong guidance that inspires undergraduate students to believe in their educational and career abilities. Mitchell encourages students, especially hesitant ones like West, to participate in undergraduate research.

“We need people from diverse backgrounds with diverse experiences to ask the questions other people haven’t asked, to find the gaps that haven’t been addressed yet, to answer those important questions,” Mitchell said. “Getting those research experiences will be something no one can take away from you, and you can always put it on your resume or CV.”

West also encouraged other students to get involved in research.

“Go ahead, because at the end of the day, you’re not going to get it if you don’t apply. So by applying you are giving yourself the chance to do something new.

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