Here on the LSU College of Science blog, we especially love to feature our outstanding students. Our students and alums are famous for traveling the world in search of new experiences, new species or answers to new and existing research questions. They travel the world both geographically, from Antarctica to Borneo to 45,000 feet above Canada, and via their study of (micro)organisms that live in places as far ranging as the stratosphere and the region of oxygen-less ocean near Manzanillo, Mexico.
Today we are featuring undergraduate student Ruth Dunn, a biological sciences major and French minor who plans to attend medical school after earning her undergraduate degree. Ruth grew up outside of Nashville, TN, but has always called Louisiana home. Ruth has combined her research and community service experiences for a one-of-a-kind pre-med experience at LSU. She is both a Stamps Leadership Scholar and a Louisiana Service and Leadership (LASAL) Scholar with the LSU Ogden Honors College.
Ruth is involved in research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, where she works with Dr. Jacqueline Stephens. She conducts in vitro experiments to investigate the mechanisms of Artemisia scoparia, a botanical in the sunflower family identified as metabolically beneficial in vivo by the Stephens lab with potential to combat insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Ruth is also heavily engaged in community service related to public health. In the summer of 2015, she interned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kenya Medical Research Institute to help train health workers in Kakuma Refugee Camp for a respiratory illness surveillance study. She also helped compile resources related to the medical and ethical treatment of Female Genital Mutilation in refugee populations and led employee education on NIH ethical guidelines for human research.
LSU College of Science: What is your background? What inspired you to go into science for college?
Ruth: Both of my parents are in medical science, so while I was growing up they encouraged a curiosity in the world around me and answered my questions with thoughtful discussion. Their influence instilled a hunger for learning and love for service that drives my academic and professional pursuits today.
LSU College of Science: When did you first realize you liked biology?
Ruth: I have enjoyed being outside for as long as I can remember. My desire to understand the forces behind everyday, natural phenomena led me to study biology.
LSU College of Science: You are also a STAMPS scholar and you've participated in the CxC Distinguished Communicator program - can you tell us about those experiences?
Ruth: The really unique thing about my experience with the Stamps Foundation, as well as with the CxC Distinguished Communicator (DC) program, is the emphasis on the accessibility and communication of knowledge within these programs. Through the Stamps Foundation, I am connected to scholars around the country who share my professional interests. The effective exchange of ideas, one of the goals of the DC program, facilitates growth and collaboration in an amazing way. Communication in any discipline is important, but I think it is essential in a scientific field. The wealth of knowledge in the scientific community grows stronger when shared.
LSU College of Science: What does your typical day look like?
Ruth: Every day looks different for me! One of the beautiful things about being a college student is the ability to have a great deal of flexibility and be involved in many diverse areas across campus. I do try to find balance in my day through taking time to breath and hang out.
LSU College of Science: What did you do this summer? Any cool internship, travel or research experiences?
Ruth: This summer I was selected for Vanderbilt’s Undergraduate Clinical Research Internship Program (UCRIP). I interned with an internal medicine team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and continued to help with a clinical research study that conducts vaccine surveillance for respiratory viruses at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital.
LSU College of Science: Can you tell us about any undergraduate research or work experiences you've had while at LSU, and what you've taken away from those?
Ruth: Since my first semester at LSU, I have been a part of Dr. Jacqueline Stephen’s adipocyte biology lab at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Beyond the inherent lesson of patience that comes with basic science research, I have been amazed to see my understanding of cell biology and laboratory technique grow over the past three years.
LSU College of Science: What is your favorite thing you've worked on or studied as a student at LSU?
Ruth: Although I have had many opportunities at LSU, one of the most personally meaningful experiences has been my internship at the Louisiana Department of Health, which I just started this semester. I have seen shining examples of dedicated public servants as well as the impact of government intervention on population health.
LSU College of Science: What's one fun/interesting/quirky thing about you? What are you hobbies?
Ruth: My best quirky fact is that I was the Junior Division Tennessee State Champion for target shooting when I was in middle school. Now, when I have the time, I enjoy hiking, reading and spending time with people that I care about.
LSU College of Science: What's the craziest, strangest or most dangerous thing you've done "for science"?
Ruth: During an internship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) field station in Nairobi, Kenya, I spent a week training health workers in Kakuma Refugee Camp in conjunction with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service only runs to Kakuma once a week, so I knew I was there to stay when I stepped off the small plane onto a dirt runway! Although a little crazy, that week was one of the most influential experiences of my college career.
I was extremely excited to be able to work with the Refugee Health Department while I was in Kenya. The most influential aspect of my time at KEMRI was the time I spent in Kakuma. I worked with two KEMRI staff members to perform two training sessions for the health care workers in the camp. The majority of the class was made up of refugees with little to no formal medical training. The goal of the training was to prepare the workers to enroll patients in a CDC study. It included the proper procedures for taking consent, doing interviews, taking samples, and sending those samples back to Nairobi for analysis. The study focused on surveillance of Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) in the camp. We also covered some topics related to epidemic control and prevention. This was in the midst of a cholera outbreak in the slum of Kibera in Nairobi. My role, due to my lack of effective Swahili, was largely to administer the pre- and post-tests as well as analyze the results. Our training seminars resulted in significant improvement for every member of the class.
LSU College of Science: What do you love most about biology? What excites you most about doing science on a regular basis? What challenges do you face?
Ruth: My favorite thing about biology is also my least favorite thing about biology. Every living system is extremely intricate and interrelated - biology is amazing, but trying to fully understand such a complex subject can be frustrating.
LSU College of Science: Can you tell us a bit about your undergraduate research?
Ruth: In Dr. Stephens’ lab, a botanical, Artemisia scoparia (Scopa), was identified as metabolically beneficial in vivo. Basically, mice that were induced to develop Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus showed improvement in their metabolic function when they were fed Scopa as a part of their diet. I am conducting experiments to investigate the mechanisms of Scopa at the cellular level.
LSU College of Science: What advice do you have for high school or first-year students interested in biology at LSU?
Ruth: Study biology because you are passionate about science, not as the means to an end. Take advantage of the excellent faculty and services available to you as a student in the College of Science.
LSU College of Science: What do you wish you'd known or done differently as a freshman at LSU?
Ruth: If I could do freshman year again, I would have developed relationships with my professors earlier on.
LSU College of Science: What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Ruth: After I graduate I will spend a year in service, then I intend to pursue an MD/MPH dual degree, so in 5 years I will probably still be in school. I am interested in migrant health and infectious disease. Eventually, I would like to work in public health.