When the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience first launched four years ago, incoming first-year student Dallece Curley was one of the first students to jump at the chance to be part of the new, one-of-a-kind program within the College of Science.
Three years later (yes, only three), the Chesapeake, Virginia, resident is ready to graduate. Curley will leave with a degree in clinical neuroscience and hundreds of hours of lab research experience behind her. In front of her: A year-long fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as part of the National Institutes of Health Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). After that, graduate school.
“I was honestly thrilled to be part of the first school of neuroscience in the United States,” Curley said. “The faculty and advisors I met during orientation conveyed what incredible opportunities would be offered in terms of advanced courses, research, and opportunities after graduation. As the school is still so new, class sizes are small, which allows individualized attention, as faculty members really take the time to get to know students and work with them throughout their development in the major.”
Curley’s initially intended to major in biology, but found neuroscience to be more intriguing. “Neuroscience was not really touched upon in my education before college, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about an area of science that seemed to be evolving constantly and on the forefront of innovation,” Curley said. “The human brain is the most important organ in our bodies, so I find it crazy that we know so little about how the brain works. I love how we are able to answer some of these questions through research, translational studies in particular.”
Curley was able to finish her degree in three years by having a semester’s worth of AP/Dual Enrollment credits as an entering first-year student and by taking classes every winter short-semester.
Along the way, she has worked prodigiously in neuroscience research labs and programs at Virginia Tech and elsewhere. At the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Curley worked in the lab of Stefanie Robel, an assistant professor with the Virginia Tech Research Institute and the School of Neuroscience.
In Robel’s astrocytes and brain injury laboratory, Curley studied glial cells, astrocytes in particular, and their dysfunctional response to mild traumatic brain injury in mouse models. Her work here alongside Robel was part of the School of Neuroscience’s Summer Research Program, with funds coming from the Virginia Tech Engel-Novitt Fellowship.
“Dallece is a rising star who will undoubtedly become a fantastic researcher,” Robel said in a 2017 recommendation letter to the Mayo Clinic. “Dallece is unusually independent, self-organized, and efficient for an undergraduate student. Dallece gets more done before 10 a.m. in the morning than most other people all day long.”
Curley also has worked at Virginia Tech Carilion Reseacrh Institute’s Addiction and Recovery Research Center, worked with mosquitoes as a laboratory technician for Professor Zhijian Tu in the Virginia Tech Department of Biochemistry, studied consumer bias and marketing for Assistant Professor Anne-Sophie Chaxel in the Pamplin College of Business, been named a student ambassador in the Office of Undergraduate Research, and has volunteered as a patient transporter and clerk at LewisGale Montgomery Hospital in Blacksburg.
She also participated in the University of Notre Dame’s National Science Foundation-funded, Research Experiences for Undergraduates full-time program, with a focus on molecular biology and vector-borne diseases. There, she won Best Poster Presentation at Notre Dame’s Summer Research Symposium.
Curley also was recognized for an outstanding neuroscience poster presentation at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Phoenix, Arizona, this past fall. One wintermester at Virginia Tech had Curley traveling to Spain as part of Pamplin’s Business and Culture in Spain Program. “It was a truly eye-opening experience and helped to widen my world view,” she added.
“I am passionate about experiential learning and the freedom of thought that research allows,” Curley said. “The experiences and mentoring I have had thus far have greatly helped me to develop confidence as a future scientist and have given me the tools and knowledge necessary to be a productive contributor to the field of science in the future.”