May 12, 2023
Representing St. Scholastica in undergraduate research
Meliyah Anderson-Tryon ’24 and Jack Branby ’23 have accomplished much in their academic careers at The College of St. Scholastica, making significant contributions to their respective areas of research. These contributions gave the two the opportunity to represent the College in undergraduate research at the Scholars at the Capitol event earlier this year. Continue to read more about how this experience allowed Meliyah and Jack to explore their own educational paths and careers.
As a Psychology and Health Humanities double major with a Gerontology minor from Rochester, MN, Meliyah initially applied to three colleges and chose St. Scholastica for the timeliness of the admissions process, small class sizes and rigor of the academic programs.
Fast forward a few years, Meliyah has truly made the most of her St. Scholastica experience. In her time at the College, Meliyah has been a part of the Student Government Association, the Psychological Association and the Psi Chi honor society. She’s also served as a TA for the Psychology department and has worked in the Center for Teaching and Learning. And if that wasn’t enough, she completed research through the TRIO McNair Scholars program.
Meliyah worked with Dr. Nicole Nowak, associate professor of Psychology, as her research mentor on the project. The pair was interested in analyzing the effects of natural stimuli on mood, heart rate and aggression after watching a mixed martial arts video. Meliyah and Dr. Nowak prepared a hypothesis, subsequent hypothesis and questionnaires related to mood and aggression levels.
“I feel very grateful and appreciative to my research mentor, Dr. Nicole Nowak,” reflected Meliyah. “I felt constant imposter syndrome and Dr. Nowak did an amazing job of reassuring me of my capabilities and skills and ensuring I succeeded in this project.”
The College’s academic rigor also initially attracted Jack Branby, a Biology major with a minor in Psychology in the Pre-Medicine program from St. Paul, MN. “I decided to attend because of the incredible science program and facilities, including the donor body lab.” As a bonus, Jack was able to pursue his dreams of playing collegiate hockey. In addition to playing on the St. Scholastica men’s hockey team as a goaltender for four years, Jack participated in the Honors Program, Pre-Medicine Club and took part in biochemical research in Dr. Melanie Talaga’s lab.
Outside of Jack’s accomplishments at St. Scholastica, he also completed research at the Creighton University School of Medicine with Dr. Laura Hansen and Dr. James Grunkemeyer this past summer as part of the Summer Research Institute. Throughout the summer, Jack worked on important skin cancer research, exploring whether a mix of antioxidants in a lotion could protect pig skin from UV-induced DNA damage within the epidermis with the end goal to increase the effectiveness of commercially available sunscreens.
“It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about medical school, make friends with professors and current medical students, and learn about different lab techniques I may be required to know in the future,” concluded Jack. His research mentors, including Creighton University graduate student, Kevin Nguyen, “were very approachable and answered all of the questions I had throughout the summer.”
Additionally, Jack’s research mentors helped him submit his work to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) national conference. Jack attended the conference online due to his hockey commitment and commented that he was able to connect with a number of medical schools over the course of a couple of days.
Scholars at the Capitol
Following their research, Meliyah and Jack were among 35 students from the 18 Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC) institutions selected for the annual Scholars at the Capitol event on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda. Organized by the MPCC, Scholars at the Capitol celebrates the scholarship of Minnesota private college students and the efforts of their research advisors. According to the MPCC, “the subject matter presented during Scholars at the Capitol represents the wide range of student learning that occurs every day at Minnesota Private Colleges.”
Meliyah was first introduced to the program through the TRIO McNair Scholars program. Although she was unable to attend the event due to a conflict in travel, Meliyah felt excitement in her encouraged application and in ultimately being selected to present. “I enjoyed sharing my project and learning about other people’s research.”
Jack recalls receiving an email regarding the Scholars at the Capitol application last fall. “I thought that I might as well apply even though I wasn’t sure I would get picked.” He shared the same excitement as his St. Scholastica counterpart in being selected. “I could spread my message of awareness about the dangers of UV-induced DNA damage.”
At the event, Jack even met with a member of the House of Representatives who shared their experience of being diagnosed with skin cancer. “We were able to exchange the knowledge we know about the subject,” said Jack. “[This] has become another source of inspiration in my pursuit of attending medical school.”
Exploring educational paths and careers
MPCC recognizes that “undergraduate research provides opportunities for students to explore the kinds of projects they will pursue later in their educational paths and careers.” This summer, Meliyah will spend 8 weeks at the University of California, Irvine completing additional research. Even more, she has plans to complete a forensic psychology internship with the Kartta Group in Duluth in the fall before applying to doctorate programs in clinical psychology following graduation.
Upon graduating this spring, Jack will join Minnesota Retina Associates as a medical scribe. “I am excited to learn more about retina surgery through this opportunity, as well as make some helpful connections in my pursuit of a career in medicine.” Additionally, Jack will be studying for the MCAT to eventually apply to medical school.
For those considering undergraduate research, Meliyah and Jack each offer their own advice. Meliyah encourages the use of resources available at the College. “McNair, the School of Arts and Sciences, and faculty members themselves are great resources and starting places to figure out your next steps.” Meliyah emphasized that “research is an amazing experience that will greatly bolster a resume,” a point further emphasized by Jack.
“It was a fantastic learning experience for me and I feel five times more prepared for medical school than I did before this experience.” Jack also shared the importance of applying early and often to programs. “Make sure you do some research into the deadlines and details to find which program is right for you.
Meliyah and Jack were able to make the most of their St. Scholastica experiences by completing undergraduate research, ultimately helping them explore their educational paths and careers in the process. “Looking back on the last four years, I am not sad that it’s over but rather glad that it happened,” reflected Jack. “I have learned a lot and met so many great people that will be my friends for years to come.”
You can view the full abstracts of Meliyah and Jack’s research below.
Department: Psychology and Sociology
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Nicole Nowak
Effects of Nature Exposure on Multidimensional Mood, Heart Rate and Ranked Aggression in Response to Aggressive Stimuli Priming
Exposure to simulated and real natural environments can reduce negative and increase positive emotion (Kjellgren & Buhrkall, 2010). The research team measured ranked aggression, mood and heart rate, and hypothesized: (1) exposure to a video clip of a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight (aggressive stimuli) will produce an increase in heart rate, a decrease in mood and higher ranked aggression scores, and (2) exposure to a video clip of nature scenes versus urban environment after the MMA video will decrease heart rate, increase positive mood and lower ranked aggression scores. Exposure to nature had psychological benefits but did not impact participants’ physiological state. Mood increased for the nature group and decreased for the urban group. The MMA video did not increase heart rate or ranked aggression; it is possible that nature exposure would act as a stronger antidote to psychological and physical stress if that stress was induced by a reliable intervention such as a social stress test.
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Laura Hansen of Creighton University School of Medicine
Pro-NP Antioxidant Enzymes and UV-Induced DNA Damage
This project proposes to evaluate the delivery of two antioxidant enzymes–superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) to the skin to suppress UV-induced DNA damage. This would be done by using a topical Gransil GCM-5 lotion along with antioxidant nanoparticles to produce Pro-NP™. In previous studies, it has been shown that the nanoparticle formulation in Pro-NP™ reduced UVR-generated ROS. Based on previous studies about the usage of Pro-NP™, the research team expects to see a reduction in DNA damage shown by the decrease in CPD, 8-oxodG, and γH2AX in pig skin. If Pro-NP™ treatment reduces levels of UVR-induced ROS in the skin and reduces the accumulation of ROS-induced DNA damage, there could be a long-term reduced risk in the development of skin cancer. Pro-NP™ would need to undergo clinical trials to reach the open market if it resulted in a variable reduction of DNA mutation.