Gut check

Through a series of research opportunities, biochemistry major Haley Carlson has plotted a course for her future

There's something special about people who focus on the little things. Like the human gut microbiome, for instance.

Because when you get the details just right, magic happens.

And that's how senior biochemistry major Haley Carlson '19 prefers to work, especially after spending her summer studying at Stanford University through the Amgen Scholars program.

Selected — alongside 40 other students — from a pool of nearly 1,000 candidates, Carlson worked with a team of professors, postdocs and undergraduates to develop a method for studying compounds produced by gut bacteria. These aren't just any compounds — these are thought to have a protective effect from ailments like irritable bowel disease and cancer.

The results?

"I found out that my method was successful, so now it has become the official lab method for studying these compounds," Carlson said. "It could have some incredible applications since Stanford has an integrated hospital. It's possible that if patients ate a certain diet that may lead to an increased production of these compounds, doctors could tailor intake before surgery to potentially improve outcomes."

Rooted in research

Before heading out west, Carlson developed her interest and passion for scientific research under leaders like St. Scholastica associate professor Zachary Via, Ph.D., with whom she is continuing a biochemistry research project that started during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Together, they've partnered with Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, WI to study the flocculation of yeast, an important step in the beer-brewing process that indicates when fermentation is complete.

"The brewer at Thirsty Pagan found a rotting plum in her backyard and took the mold from it to get yeast, so that's what we're trying to get to flocculate," said Carlson, who also spent summer 2017 in the Clare Boothe Luce research program. "Hopefully, by the end of the year we'll be able to successfully brew beer with it."

Carlson said the biochemistry program at St. Scholastica has given her the opportunity for more lab work than expected — experience she tapped into regularly on her Stanford research team.

"The classes here have a strong lab component where you're taught to think critically," Carlson said. "Something that surprised me was how much the professors here are rooting for you to succeed. In high school, you hear so often how difficult and strict professors are going to be, but they actually care about us and are excited about our success."

Future in focus

Carlson knows her summer research will impact her future goals — specifically, attending graduate school.

"One way my research opportunities will help is that I was able to receive a lot of great scientific training, and it improved my skill level," Carlson said. "These experiences are the kind of things graduate school admissions look for."

When she considers her entire St. Scholastica experience, Carlson believes it is a place where critical thinkers can thrive.

"I love how there's an environment where the professors know us and care for us and can truly invest in our future," Carlson said.

TRIO McNair Scholars Program

During her time at St. Scholastica, Haley has received support from the TRIO McNair Scholars program. This program inspires and empowers first generation students with financial need and underrepresented students of color to succeed in doctoral study and advanced careers.