Where did your love of science begin?
I've had an interest in genetics since the second grade. My teacher was explaining dominant and recessive genes, and that brown eyes are dominant over blue. Well, both of my parents have brown eyes, as do my two sisters and I, but my brother has blue eyes. I asked why and got a second-grade-level answer. But since then, my fascination with genetics has never waned. In high school I realized I was more drawn to plant genetics.
You've had some amazing internship opportunities. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
My first internship in the world of plant research was with the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates. I analyzed genes related to photosynthesis in different plant systems in the hope that one day we can use the more efficient, heat-tolerant genes from maize and move them into rice.
This summer I conducted research in a Cornell University lab where I evaluated the behavioral interactions between D. melanogaster flies and a bacterial pathogen called Fire Blight, which infects apple orchards and other fruits. Overall, it was a great experience. I learned a lot, made new friends, and made great connections for graduate school.
You were among an elite group of students chosen to attend the NSF REU Symposium in Washington, D.C. What did that feel like?
Each program gets to nominate only one intern for the event, and in the end, only 100 are chosen to attend. When I got the email, I was ecstatic! I was literally jumping up and down in my room, silently screaming to myself in happiness. I called my parents immediately to tell them the news, and we all freaked out together. All my hard work was paying off, and this was proof of that.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to go straight to a doctoral program in plant breeding and genetics. After school, I want to go into industry. This is where the plant breeding is occurring that's out there hitting the markets and impacting the world. Research at a university is great. I want to apply that research to get the results to make a global difference.