Georgia College Alumni Dive into Industry Through Way of Research

By the time Anastasia Kerr-German was a senior in 2014, she had already presented independent research at various conferences, delved into the rigor that goes into designing a research study, and worked with three different Georgia College faculty in their research labs. 

“All my professors that I worked with brought something different to the table,” she said. “That was the beauty of Georgia College for me because you get to work with multiple faculty and it’s very collaborative. My ideas of what I wanted to do with my life sort of evolved based on conversations I had with them individually.”

Kerr-German worked with Drs. Whitney Heppner, J. Noland White, and Tsu-Ming Chiang in the Department of Psychology while she was a student. It was those experiences in faculty research labs, that led her to pursue research in her own career—and she’s not alone.

“Well, first I didn’t even know that I’d have the opportunity here,” said Marissa Mayfield, ‘18, ’20, who recently graduated in December with her master’s in biology from Georgia College. When Mayfield was an undergraduate environmental science major, she too experienced taking the reins in a research lab, which invigorated her to explore research further.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to research. At first, I just thought it was a cool path to test out,” she said. “Working with other students and faculty on research helped me figure out this was something that I loved doing.”

Mayfield researched environmental remediation while an undergraduate. She looked at environments that have been polluted and through varying environmental analysis, she determined the most affordable and efficient way to fix that area. An interest in remediation and rehabilitation eventually landed her a National Science Foundation grant last year. The grant was to research the remedial properties of Moringa trees, whose roots and shoots absorb water and nutrients from the soil as well as heavy metals.

Like Mayfield, Audrey Waits, ‘17, was a graduate student studying biology at Georgia College. Her research at the university focused on the discovery of new bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria. Waits garnered a Fulbright Scholarship in 2017 to study in Finland. She conducted research with the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu. She studied Arctic health and studied how climatic factors (temp, precipitation, etc.) affects infectious diseases for both humans and animals in the Arctic.

As part of her Fulbright experience, Waits attended workshops, seminars and conducted a systematic literature review—it’s the same experiences that now guide her as a faculty member in biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of Oulu. She’s also a Ph.D. student at the university, where she’s studying endometrial glands and their 3D structure in relation to hormones, genetic modifications, and early pregnancy (mainly in mice).

“This research will help in understanding how endometrial gland structure affects implantation and could aid in timing embryo transfers for in vitro fertilization (IVF),” Waits said.

“My Fulbright experience was truly a life-changing experience for me, in the best possible way,” Waits said. “I met my husband during my Fulbright experience and now, we live in Oulu where I am a PhD student. My Fulbright experience definitely shaped my career and future in research.”

Kerr-German went on to study at the University of Tennessee where she got her master’s in experimental psychology and graduated in 2019 with a doctorate in research and experimental psychology and neuroscience. She now leads the Brain, Executive Function and Attention Research (B.E.A.R) Lab at Boys Town National Research Hospital. One major goal of the lab is to understand how children’s brains process the information in the world around them and what individual factors might lead to different developmental trajectories and long-term outcomes.

At the core of what these graduates do is a focus on community and translating this experience in research to serve others. For Mayfield, it’s about helping communities and wildlife have a chance to thrive.

“Being a researcher is important because it’s all about what you’re able to contribute to science,” said Mayfield. “I get to find ways to help people, to clean whole environments and give organisms back their habitats so they won’t go extinct.”

Kerr-German said it comes down to the lives she’s able to impact—it’s a lesson that’s stayed with her since her time at Georgia College in Dr. Chiang’s research lab, where she did examine factors contributing to the development of young children’s social and emotional competence.

“Because we were all paired with individual children, we were able to see that child grow over the course of a year or however long you’re in the lab. You get to see how these interventions affected them, you got to look at the statistics and see if it actually worked,” she said. “To me, that’s the coolest part. It’s that translational piece that I sought when I went on the get my graduate degree—and eventually what I sought when I was looking for a career in research.”

Written by: Editorial Team for Georgia College & State University

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Founded in 1978, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing high-quality and collaborative undergraduate research, scholarly, and creative activity. Among the many activities and networking opportunities that CUR provides, the organization also offers support for the professional growth of faculty and administrators through expert-designed institutes, conferences, and a wide-range of volunteer positions. The CUR community, made up of nearly 700 institutions and 13,000 individuals, continues to provide a platform for discussion and other resources related to mentoring, connecting, and creating relationships centered around undergraduate research. CUR’s advocacy efforts are also a large portion of its work as they strive to strengthen support for undergraduate research. Its continued growth in connections with representatives, private foundations, government agencies, and campuses world-wide provides value to its members and gives voice to undergraduate research. CUR is committed to inclusivity and diversity in all of its activities and our community.

CUR focuses on giving a voice to undergraduate research with learning through doing. It provides connections to a multitude of campuses and government agencies, all while promoting networking and professional growth to its community.