Selena Washington '14: "Conducting research enriches my educational experience by
allowing me to delve deeper into an area of study."
Randolph-Macon College student Selena Washington ’14 wanted to
apply to the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
program, but she was a little tentative. Some good advice made all the difference.
“My capstone advisor, Biology Professor Traci
Stevens, encouraged me to apply, and I’m glad she did,” says Washington, a King
William, Virginia native.
Washington’s research project is titled “Testing regions of the second chromosome
for genetic interaction with loss of function Abl mutations in Drosophila
melanogaster.” Five days a week, she settles into a Copley Science Center lab and
screens specific regions of the fly genome for interactions with a protein called
Abl. Washington is working under Stevens’ guidance to study how a mutant
strain of Abl leads to the development of chronic myelogenous leukemia
(CML) in humans.
“I have a list of things I do every day in the lab,” says Washington, a
biology major. “I change the plates the flies lay eggs on; I collect newly-hatched
female flies; and I put flies into fresh bottles so that they can lay more eggs.”
Some of the flies are “heat-shocked” so that recombination—the breaking and rejoining
of DNA strands to form new molecules of DNA—can occur at specific areas in the genome.
The SURF program is challenging and rewarding.
“Conducting research enriches my educational experience by allowing me to delve
deeper into an area of study,” says Washington. “Not many undergraduates get this
kind of hands-on experience.”
Mentorship—a key component of SURF—helps Washington set goals and chart outcomes.
“Without it, I would have no idea how to go about my research,” she says. “Professor
Stevens and I talk about what needs to happen in the lab and how to do it. At the
same time, she allows me to do the work on my own at the pace that is right for
me. She is very easy to talk to and open to any questions I may have. This experience
is helping prepare me for my future goals: medical school and a career in medicine.”
Stevens enjoys working with Washington on a one-on-one basis.
“Selena has been doing a fabulous job in the lab,” says Stevens. “She joined the
lab last summer and worked in the lab throughout the past academic year. Since she
had so much lab experience already, Selena has taken on a challenging project this
summer. Her project requires both skills in the lab and an understanding of complicated
SURF was introduced in 1995 as an endowment to
support scholarly undergraduate research by students in all disciplines. Students
conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer months, under
the guidance of a faculty mentor. The initial gift for the program was made by Benjamin
Schapiro ’64 and his wife Peggy.