Long hours in the laboratory last summer paid off for Maggie Koenecke ’15, a molecular biology major from Dallas, and Scott Freeburg ’16, a biology major from Memphis, Tenn., who will present research papers at the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting in San Diego in March. The two were among just 14 undergraduates nationwide to receive a Pfizer Undergraduate Travel Award that pays for conference lodging and transportation.
“Just getting accepted to the conference was great news, but to receive the travel award on top of it was a surprise for everybody,” said Koenecke, who works with Freeburg in the laboratory of their mentor, Professor of Biology Wade Powell. “Professor Powell said this was the first time that he has had two students in the same year receive the travel award.”
The students are working on related projects that examine the reaction of frogs to the environmental toxin dioxin. The frog is a popular model animal for experimentation due to its close evolutionary relationship to humans.
Koenecke has been dissecting tadpoles to study the impact of dioxin exposure on the function of the thyroid system in their development. Freeburg is seeking to clarify the role a protein called the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AHR) plays in dioxin resistance among frogs, who have two receptors compared to one in mice and humans.
The students credit their award to Kenyon’s Summer Science Scholars program, an eight- to 10-week research program that pays students a stipend to work closely with faculty mentors and classmates.
The program allowed Freeburg to spend 40 to 50 hours a week in the lab compared to 10 to 12 hours a week during the school year. “The summer is different because you devote every bit of your time to research,” Freeburg said. “You don’t have to balance it with classes or work it into your schedule. Basically, all the work I did this summer is the work I am presenting at the conference in March.”
Koenecke needed the single-minded focus this summer to test research techniques. “I was able to figure out what to do correctly and efficiently over the summer,” she said. “I don’t think that would have been possible during the school year.”
Freeburg and Koenecke said the opportunity to work full-time in a research lab provided them with the research experience needed for graduate school or a career. The travel award from Pfizer, a multinational pharmaceutical company, pairs the students with a mentor from Pfizer during the conference, giving them more insight into their post-graduation options.
“Summer Science reinforced my ambition to go to graduate school and gave me the background to carry out relevant research,” Freeburg said. Koenecke added, “I knew I would have more opportunity to do research at a small school like Kenyon — that was the main draw. But Summer Science was really big because it enabled me to focus completely on my research without having to worry about other classes.”