From mammal reproduction to making better plants, one undergraduate explores through research
July 31, 2015
Christina DeJean is getting ready for her final year as an undergraduate. But it’s not the end of her education.
“I want ‘Dr.’ in front of my name,” said DeJean, who is on track to be among the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. “My parents are from Haiti, so that means a lot that they really came from nothing. I remember my mom telling me she learned to speak English watching 'Sesame Street' with us and from soap operas. They didn’t necessarily have opportunities, and now I’m here. It makes me feel good, like I’m giving back to their hard work.”
DeJean is majoring in biology at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, but she has spent her summer as an intern in the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program’s (MAOP) Summer Research Internship. She’s worked in the laboratory of Jim Westwood, professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, learning first-hand about the functions of the plant immune system to help make better plants. Back at Fayetteville State, she worked in a lab studying mammalian reproduction.
“There are lots of failures, but at the end of it all, I really do love research. All of the stuff in the books — I get to see it now in action,” DeJean said.
Even as a small child, DeJean said she saw science as part of her future. “I remember being 12 years old and begging for a telescope. Who does that?” DeJean said. “I always dreamed of myself working somewhere in a lab coat, mixing up chemicals. I’m happy that I’m actually on my way to fulfilling my dreams.”
A faculty member at Fayetteville noticed DeJean’s hard work in class and encouraged her to take her academics to the next level. “I took cell biology last fall, and my teacher was the director of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program there. He said, ‘You’re pretty good at this. You’re on top of your work, so why don’t you go out for some of these other programs that our school offers?’” DeJean said. “I’m so glad I listened. At first I thought, ‘No, I don’t have time,’ but I took a leap and I am so happy I did.”
DeJean is a participant in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) at Fayetteville State, a National Science Foundation program. LSAMP’s goal is to diversify the STEM workforce and to prepare participants for graduate education. The LSAMP grant at Virginia Tech is housed in MAOP.
“Christina worked hard to make the most of her summer research experience and take her research skills to the next level,” said Christopher Clarke, research fellow in plant pathology, physiology, and weed science and DeJean’s research supervisor this summer. “She showed a lot of enthusiasm for learning new laboratory techniques and general science concepts. These skills and attributes will serve her well in future academic endeavors.”
Beyond the research experience, DeJean said MAOP helps her develop skills to be a competitive applicant to graduate school. “This program, period, has exposed me to things I don’t think I would have encountered being a regular undergraduate and then applying for grad school. They’re giving us mentorships, lab training, classes, and just being in this program makes me more attractive to grad schools.”
It all adds up to get her one step closer to adding “Dr.” in front of her name, while getting to fulfill her childhood dream of working in a laboratory and making contributions to the science field.
DeJean and other MAOP interns will present their research findings at the MAOP Research Symposium from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today, July 31, in the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown at 155 Otey St. NW.