Dr. Janet Rogers
Edinboro University biochemistry major Nicole Wagner’s persistence and commitment to academic excellence has earned her a coveted spot in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
The REU program is designed to give undergraduate students the opportunity to research alongside experienced faculty at the host institution. Students receive a stipend to offset travel, housing and living expenses.
Beginning June 6, Wagner will spend 10 weeks in Minnesota living in the dorms and working with fluorinated proteins to study small molecule interactions. Her research will focus on a type of protein domain called Bromodomains, which have proven to be significant in cancer therapy.
“My dream is to work on research relating to public health and diseases, particularly infectious diseases such as viruses,” Wagner said. “I'm really happy that I was assigned a project with significance in health and medicine.”
A career in biochemistry was not always her dream. In fact, prior to taking general chemistry as a college freshman, she had never stepped foot in a scientific lab of any kind. The Erie native completed her high school diploma online through the PA Cyber program and wasn’t sure what to expect when she walked into Cooper Science Center for the first time.
“My first few chemistry labs were almost humiliatingly bad and I was lucky if I even completed an experiment within the allotted time,” Wagner said. “For the first month or so of the class, I felt so unfamiliar and lost when trying to do experiments.”
Feeling discouraged, she consulted the instructor of the course, Dr. Paul Edwards, who suggested she watch YouTube videos of the experiments before coming to class.
“I had never struggled with anything academically before,” she said. “It turns out that I’m a visual learner, and those videos really helped me get an idea of what to do in the lab.”
Recognizing the impact of the instructional videos, Wagner worked closely with Dr. Edwards to compile a library of lab videos for other students to use as a resource. With guidance from Dr. Edwards and the Chemistry Department chairperson Dr. Lisa Unico, she decided to become a biochemistry major.
Now in her second year studying biochemistry, Wagner has become a confident laboratory assistant and looks forward to the REU opportunity.
“Having this experience will be valuable when I apply to jobs or graduate schools,” Wagner said. “Graduate schools in particular want to see applicants who possess strong research skills.”
Wagner credits her success in being chosen for the highly competitive research program to “the recommendation letters I received from Dr. Edwards and Dr. Hoffman” and her experience as a laboratory assistant.
“It is rather unusual for students only in their second year of studying chemistry to be invited to participate in a program such as the one Nicole will be attending at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Edwards said. “She earned this invitation with hard work both in formal coursework and as a lab assistant in the Chemistry Department.”
“Dr. Edwards, who is now retired, has been a valuable mentor to me since the beginning,” Wagner said. “He taught me all the skills I needed to be a lab assistant, and was just really patient and helpful throughout my first semester as a chemistry major and student employee.”
Along with Dr. Edwards, she acknowledged several other Chemistry Department faculty members as being “wonderful and encouraging.”
“EU’s Chemistry Department is small, but it is a lot more personal than departments at larger universities,” she said. “The professors here are not only great educators, but great people too.”