SMB People

SMB People

  • Training our Students for Success

    Story by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 | Photo by Henry Moore Jr.

    Keesha Matz with Dr. Alan Goodman
    Keesha Matz with Dr. Alan Goodman.

    Keesha Matz wants to understand some of the world’s deadliest viruses. Raised in Chehalis, Washington, her love for microbiology began in a molecular genetics high school class taught by WSU alumnus Henri Weeks.

    “The class gave me a real feel for research, which I think is unique for a high school class,” says Matz.

    That experience inspired her to apply to the WSU School of Molecular Bioscience’s STARS program. Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, or STARS, accelerates learning and provides hands-on research experience. “They help you get into a research lab right away,” she says. For Matz, it meant that she could spend the summers after her freshman and sophomore years conducting research instead of going back home to get a job.

    Her first experience in a research lab was with Dr. Hector Aguilar-Carreño in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health who studies the Nipah virus. First discovered in 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore, the deadly virus was the subject of the 2011 film, Contagion, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. In Aguilar-Carreño’s lab, she studied how proteins of the virus can spread the disease throughout the body. She also studied Lyme disease with Dr. Troy Bankhead, who has a joint appointment in the Allen School and the Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology department. She is currently conducting research on the Nipah virus with Dr. Alan Goodman in the School of Molecular Biosciences.

    “I am able to directly apply what I learned in Dr. Aguilar-Carreño’s lab in Dr. Goodman’s lab,” she says.

    In Goodman’s lab, rather than trying to understand how the virus spreads throughout the body, they want to know how the virus can evade the body’s innate immune response. When a virus enters the body, the immune system typically responds to the foreign invader. But with the Nipah virus, certain proteins signal the body to decrease its immune response.

    “Keesha is not afraid to take on new, large-scale, challenging experiments,” says Goodman. “She carefully plans every step beforehand to make sure that the experiments are carried out properly and that she can perform them independently.”

    This summer as an undergraduate research fellow at Mayo Clinic, Matz will study a protein of the Ebola virus that also evades the antiviral response at the cellular level, similar to the work she had done at WSU.

    For Matz, the support she has received at WSU to pursue research opportunities and apply for scholarships has made a difference in her academic success. She is 1 of only 240 students nationwide to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for 2017–18. She also received two scholarships through the School of Molecular Biosciences—the Alice Lloyd Diers and William E. Diers Microbiology Student Endowment Scholarship in 2016 and the Walter L. & Pauline W. Harris Microbiology Endowment Scholarship in 2017.

    “It was a huge honor to be awarded a national scholarship,” says Matz, who has maintained nearly a 4.0 GPA while working in the research labs. “Being selected for these scholarships has allowed me to focus more on academics and research and take advantage of other opportunities. It feels like a big pat on the back.”

    Matz will graduate in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor of science degree in microbiology. From there she plans to go to graduate school. Berkeley, Mayo Clinic, and Cornell are places she is considering applying to, but the dream is Stanford. “You have to try,” she says.

    Thinking about the future, Matz would eventually like to work in government lab or private industry conducting medical research that can be used to design treatments for infectious diseases, like Nipah. “I would like to be in an organization that works globally, such as the World Health Organization,” she says. She also wants to support the university that has given her so much.

    “In the future, I definitely want to give back, because I know how much it means to students,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentoring I’ve had at WSU.”

  • Student Research, Retention Thrive with Team Mentoring

    by Steve Nakata, WSU News

    Jacob Lizarraga

    While many of their friends spent the summer performing typical student jobs like waiting tables or stocking the shelves in their hometown grocery store, three Washington State University seniors donned white lab coats and helped advance cutting edge research in reproductive biology.

    The students are participants in WSU’s highly-acclaimed Team Mentoring Program (TMP). Through a combination of workshops, social events, and panel discussions and research opportunities, TMP provides underrepresented minority students majoring in STEM and health disciplines personalized support as a way to boost their retention and graduation rates.

    Since the program was established in 2007, the Office of Multicultural Student Services (MSS) reports TMP has helped 925 undergraduates, utilizing 125 student mentors and 30 faculty mentors.

    The program’s impact is well documented. MSS Director J. Manuel Acevedo said for the 2007 to 2014 cohort of active participants, 76-percent have or are on-track to graduate compared to 68-percent for those not active in the program. When looking at just engineering students, 69-percent of the active students have or are projected to graduate, as opposed to 55-percent who haven’t participated in TMP.

    Last year, TMP was a finalist for the national University Economic Development Association’s Award of Excellence. In the same year, TMP faculty mentors received WSU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award.

    Discovering a passion for research

    Marleny Garcia and Joy Winuthayanon

    One late summer morning students Marleny Garcia, Jacob Lizarraga, and Karena De La Rosa scurried around the lab directed by WSU molecular biosciences professor Joy Winuthayanon. Each of them conducting separate experiments, but all trying to address one big issue--how problems related to female reproduction can be resolved.

    De La Rosa hails from a big family, the fifth child among 12 brothers and sisters. Her father went to college in his 30’s and has been a strong advocate for higher education ever since. She always knew she wanted to go to college.

    At WSU Karena wanted to try research, but didn’t know how until her TMP student mentor connected her with faculty mentor Phil Mixter, an associate professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Mixter is a key player in the TMP program helping to match interested students with faculty members in the sciences.

    “Now that I’m working in Joy’s lab, I realize I really like it and I’m pretty good at it,” said De La Rosa, who now aspires to become a researcher for a pharmaceutical company.

    Microbiology major Lazarraga described himself as going through the motions prior to becoming involved in TMP. He went to classes, studied, and hung out with friends. It wasn’t until he got involved in research that he truly understood the importance of what is being taught in the classroom.

    “Before I didn’t see how my biology and chemistry classes applied to the real world,” he said. “Now I can see that connection and it has sparked a passion that has driven me to do well in school.”

    Faculty important role models

    One of most valuable components of TMP is the opportunity for students to be mentored by faculty members.

    As TMP faculty mentors, Winuthayanon and Shaui Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Joy’s lab, teach the students about the world of research including what questions to ask, what equipment to use, and how to know if their experiments are successful.

    Karena De La Rosa

    “Joy has been such a good role model for me and is so good at what she does,” said Garcia. “When she explains things to me, she makes sure I understand it completely so that I’m actually learning.”

    Winuthayanon admits that taking on undergraduate students in the lab is time-intensive especially at the beginning, but says the reward at the end is well worth waiting for.

    “The students learn what it takes to work in a research lab and if conducting research is something they like to do,” she said. “I also benefit by gaining experience in training students and all the great work they contribute to the research we are doing in the lab.”

    She appreciates her school’s support for junior faculty by encouraging them to mentor undergraduate students.

    All three students say their faculty mentors have offered invaluable advice ranging from what they need to work on, how to get the most out of the curriculum, and the types of internships they need to be competitive on the job market.

    “When you see how dedicated these students are, you quickly realize this isn’t about you,” Li said. “It’s about wanting to help them flourish.”

    Networking makes all the difference

    Coming from the small town of Mattawa, Wash. where 90-percent of the population speaks Spanish, Garcia could have been destined to work in the surrounding orchards and vineyards like so many others she grew up with. But this first-generation student aspires to be a doctor and came to WSU to enroll in the pre-medicine program.

    “A big thing that can help you succeed in college is surrounding yourself with others who are successful,” Garcia said. “TMP is a great at connecting you with successful people.”

    De la Rosa recalled how scary it was to live away from her family for the first time and credits TMP for providing her another family at WSU.

    “It has given me the opportunity to meet amazing people who give you a push forward and a head start in everything,” she said.

    Impacting people’s lives

    Both the students and faculty mentors say there’s no substitution for gaining real lab experience in the STEM and health disciplines. It gives students more knowledge, more experience, and most of all, an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people.

    “The research I’m doing makes me feel really good because I know many people can’t have children and we’re working towards solutions for them,” said De La Rosa. “I feel like we’re making really good progress.”

    Lazarraga added, “It’s awesome to know that my research will be used to help people who are struggling to get pregnant. This is a lot bigger than me.”

    TMP research scholarships are supported by Boeing, AT&T and the WSU Colleges of Engineering and Architecture, Arts and Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

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