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University Honors Program Student Named Semi-Finalist for Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Samuel Hobbs has been named a semi-finalist for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program (ETA), taking an important step toward his goal of teaching English in Colombia next school year.

“I’ve had so many great opportunities here at Georgia Southern that have helped me to develop a true love for teaching and mentoring students and the Fulbright Scholarship allows me to explore this passion in a rigorous and exciting manner,” Hobbs said.

Samuel Hobbs

Hobbs will graduate in May with a degree in Political Science and Spanish, and is currently working on his honors thesis, “Does Description Equal Prescription? A Case for Gender Quotas in Latin America” mentored by Dr. Jamie Scalera. The thesis focuses on the influence that women have on legislation rates pertaining to women such as reproductive healthcare, sexual and domestic violence, and education in Latin American legislatures.

Hobbs conducted a case study analysis of countries that have gender quotas, a fixed percentage of women in the legislature, to determine if the presence of women increase the rate of legislation passed in regards to the aforementioned topics.

“Going to Colombia with Fulbright will give me even more insight into this topic because Columbia doesn’t have a gender quota. This will help me to explore the effects this has on the rates of legislation passed in a country that does not adhere to this other method,” Hobbs explained. “I’ve also had to translate hundreds of laws from Spanish to English for this project, so it only made sense to apply to a country where I could strengthen my Spanish.”

The next steps for the semi-finalist include an interview with the selection committee in Colombia. Final decisions will be made later in the spring.

In regards to his future with both this program opportunity and his thesis research, Hobbs said, “Well, if all goes as planned, I am certain that I will cry. As for my thesis, I plan on expanding my dataset and research to Africa, Asia, and Europe during my time in graduate school and hopefully get it published. With the Fulbright program, I would gladly postpone my graduate school plans and receive this opportunity with open arms.”

Developing the Research Mindset

Like all Honors Program students, when Molly Rowe graduates with her degree in biology this fall, she will have completed an independent research project in the form of her honors thesis. Unlike a number of her peers, she will also have two publications in scientific journals.

Molly Rowe in the lab.

Lots of students delving into medical research start out tackling the big health issues of the day, and Rowe is no different. She is on the list of authors for two articles that focus on cancer research: “DNA topoisomerase IIα and RAD21 cohesin complex component are predicted as potential therapeutic targets in bladder cancer” published in Oncology Letters, and “Integration of bioinformatics approaches and experimental validations to understand the role of notch signaling in ovarian cancer” published in the Journal of Visual Experiments.

In thinking about her research mindset, Rowe said, “The research process for me usually begins with reading and staying up-to-date with existing scientific literature, then identifying a topic that is intriguing to me and further refining this to develop specific questions or testable hypotheses,and my research mentor, Dr. Dongyu Jia, has really helped me progress from finding a topic of interest to identifying specific questions that can be researched and answered.”

Once a topic has been selected, the work has only just begun. Rowe’s dedication to solving real-world problems has resulted in complex research on her selected topics that can prove to be very challenging. 

“Research in general definitely has highs and lows,” she said. “Sometimes experiments that you have spent countless hours on do not work out and sometimes these experiments turn out perfectly. For these publications, the research process was no exception.” 

Her experiments involved extensive preplanning in the forms of problem identification, hypothesis creation, and designing and effective, replicable experiment. She and her other research team members also utilized various types of technology from microscopy and antibody staining to advanced computer programs to analyze data from a biostatistics and bioinformatics standpoint. While they encountered many challenges throughout their research, after a lot of work and time spent to ensure accuracy and validity, they were able to overcome these problems and produce results that they were confident in.

With a thorough experiment completed, Rowe could then move on to recording her results and submitting them for publication. “The process can sometimes be very extensive and time-consuming from writing the paper itself and deciding which journal(s) you would like to send it to, waiting to hear from your publisher and potentially having to go through multiple rounds of revision before acceptance,” Rowe explained, “but from this process you truly get to experience the value of peer review firsthand and see how it can help lead to a more meaningful contribution to your field.” 

By adapting her experimental approach and thinking outside of the box in her problem solving techniques, Rowe was able to see her work and herself grow into their best versions. “In the end, it is exciting to be able to write about and share the work that we are doing in our lab with others in the scientific community.”

Even after all of these achievements, Rowe is continuing to challenge herself. She currently has a paper written in association with her thesis work, “Analysis of the Temporal Patterning of Notch Downstream Targets during Drosophila melanogaster Egg Chamber Development”, that is currently in the publication process, as well. After graduation Rowe plans to attend medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and continue pursuing her passions through research.

Political Science Students on the Conference Trail

In a world full of constant political division, Georgia Southern Honors students are making their mark by using research to gather a greater understanding of these intricacies and provide their own insights to some of today’s most pressing political issues. Their work has addressed topics such as immigration policy, the influence of women in chief executive roles, and voter turnout and is well received by peers and colleagues in the larger Political Science community. 

L-R: Gabrielle Peterson, Dr. Jamie Scalera, Anna Kwiatkowski, Dr. Srobana Bhattacharya,  Samuel Hobbs, Dr. Maureen Stobb, Ian Sheppard, Dr. Kate Perry.

In early October, four Political Science Honors students, Anna Kwiatkowski (political science ‘19), Ian Sheppard (political science and philosophy, ‘20), Gabrielle Peterson (political science and writing & linguistics ‘21), and Samuel Hobbs (political science and Spanish ‘20) attended the International Studies Association (ISA)—South Conference in Memphis to present their Honors Thesis research on panels with other students and faculty. Through this experience, these students were able to connect not just with their Georgia Southern faculty, but with professors and students from other universities across the region as well.

Kwiatkowski, who presented her research, Immigration Policy Reform: Higher education and International Students, commented that her greatest takeaway from the conference was the connections she was able to make with her professors. “I really enjoyed getting to connect with the professors from my department,” she said. “I got to learn more about what their research areas are and what the women in the department face as academics. I grew such an appreciation for all my professors during this conference.”

Peterson, who presented her thesis, Nurturing Democracy? Mediating Between Female Chief Executives and Voter Turnout, also enjoyed this time spent with both her own professors as well as those from other universities in the region. “Because of my professors’ involvement in ISA’s Women’s Caucus, I was able to go to the Women’s Caucus Breakfast and Roundtable Discussion and learn what it means to be a woman in Political Science academia,” Peterson said. This opportunity allowed her to experience a supportive and uplifting environment for female political scientists in this special space they have created for themselves. Peterson continued saying, “It was really touching for me to see this type of fellowship. It makes me hopeful that the unyielding support I have received from my Georgia Southern professors exists in the Political Science departments of other schools and in the broader field of Political Science.”

Attending conferences like this one also allows them to make connections with other universities that could help them in their graduate careers. Georgia Southern Associate Professor, Dr. Jamie Scalera, shared her avid admiration for these students and their work, saying, “Our students did such an outstanding job that they have caught the attention of several graduate programs throughout the country!” She continued saying, “Georgia Southern has become a well-known presence at this conference — both due to the involvement of our faculty and for the excellent presentations from our students.” 

A Golden Summer Research Experience

For international students like Jennifer Iwenofu (Biochemistry ‘22), finding a summer internship or research opportunity that provides some financial support can be difficult. Despite this obstacle, Iwenofu was able to find a program that also fit her research interests and helped her achieve academic goals.

Jennifer Iwenofu in the lab with Dr. Derrick Swinton, Department of Chemistry, at Claflin University.

Iwenofu spent her summer researching nanoparticles in the Spectroscopic Characterization of Gold Nanoparticles with Proteins Project at Claflin University. Her days typically began at 9:00 am and consisted of completing specific tasks designated for each day. “The most unique part of this project was that we all had different aspects that we worked on independently, but in some way all of the results of these individual aspects overlapped to lead to the overall scientific finding,” Iwenofu said. 

Iwenofu also enjoyed the rewarding feeling of seeing all of her work come together through a proven hypothesis. “One of my highlights was the day we put our gold coated nanoparticles and our bare nanoparticles in the Circular Dichroism spectrum,” she said. “It was exciting to see our hypothesis that the gold coated nanoparticles would have higher alpha helices in higher ionic strengths proven and reflected through our graphs.”

Through this experience, Iwenofu was able to learn how to rely on herself. While her mentors were available to her, it was her responsibility to solve the problems she encountered within her realm of the research. In this way, Iwenofu no longer had to rely on her mentors to teach her how to do things as she was able to learn for herself while working through the challenges. 

Cross-Cultural Experiences in Cancer Research

With graduate school application deadlines approaching quickly, Abigail McNamee (Biochemistry ‘20) had a tough decision to make about how to spend her final undergraduate summer. Her desire to study abroad and experience another culture was matched by her academic need for research experience. Thanks to the dedication of her professors and the participants in her Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, McNamee was able to achieve both of these goals while also fulfilling all of her desires for worthwhile summer experiences.

McNamee in the lab.

McNamee spent her summer in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department in the Georgia Cancer Center building of Augusta University researching the effects of phosphodiesterase inhibitors on c-GMP signaling and colon cancer cell proliferation in vitro. “My role in the project was to investigate whether the colon cancer cells themselves were being affected by the drugs we were studying or if the initiation process of colon cancer was being affected,” McNamee explained. In doing this research, McNamee enjoyed being exposed to more biomedical-focused research and learning about a vast array of research topics in the biomedical field ranging from cancer to eye diseases. 

“I wanted to pursue research over the summer because I wanted to continue to enhance my research skills and hopefully prepare myself for graduate school,” McNamee said. Her choice to participate in research at another university was also motivated by her desire to attend graduate school. “I wanted the chance to see what other universities might have to offer. Since I am in the process of looking for graduate programs, I thought that an REU at a potential graduate school option would be an excellent way for me to see if the school would be a good fit and what the research opportunities were there.”

While McNamee was initially disappointed in the impact this had on her ability to study abroad, she soon realized that her time spent in Augusta could contain just as many unique cultural experiences. “In my program, there were five international students, and I learned a lot about them and their cultures. So in essence, I still got the benefits that I was looking for from a study abroad and also got the research experience that was the most important.” 

Due to their vigorous daily work schedules, the members of the research team spent most of their free time getting to know more about one another and their different cultures during meals. “Since the international students didn’t have cars, I often drove with them to go grocery shopping or out to eat,” McNamee recalled. “These trips actually proved to be a wonderful time for us to talk about their home countries and the differences between how they lived there compared to in America.” McNamee was even able to try some traditional Nepali food prepared by one of her fellow researchers. “Anush, one of the Nepali students, often cooked for himself and would share what he had made with me. I had never tried Nepali cuisine before, but after this, I was convinced I had found my new favorite type of food!” 

McNamee’s REU was a successful experience that increased her self confidence and provided further clarity for her career path. “I am more confident than ever that I wish to pursue a career in research, specifically in the biomedical or a similarly health-related field of study,” McNamee said. “Through this experience, I got a glimpse of what a full-time career in research could look like.”