Stetson University: Investing in the Sciences
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Stetson University: Investing in the Sciences

Inside a lab in the Sage Hall Science Centre, students at Stetson University work with microscopes and needles to alter a strand of DNA in butterfly eggs. Using CRISPR gene-editing technology, they change the colour of butterfly wings from orange and brown scales to black scales with a simple cut.

Associate Biology Professor Lynn Kee, PhD, received a US$300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to teach this new technique. She also mentors students on their own research projects, which can open doors to prestigious internships and graduate programs at top institutions nationwide.

“Students work with me in their junior (third) year to create a project, and then in their senior (fourth) year they work on their projects with me in the lab,” Kee shared. “They spend [up to] 10 hours in the lab each week working on their research and then present their work at our Stetson Showcase.”

Stetson provides top-notch faculty and state-of-the-art facilities for students pursuing degrees in the sciences, ranging from Health Sciences and Chemistry to Environmental Science and Studies. In addition, students in Stetson’s signature Pre-Health Program work with a dedicated advisor and faculty committee to prepare and apply for medical, dental, pharmacy or vet school, as well as other health professional programs.

In recent years, Stetson has invested US$29 million in the sciences, renovating Sage Hall and building the Cici & Hyatt Brown Hall for Health & Innovation, a US$19 million science facility that opened in January 2023. Together, these connecting buildings form a 120,000-square-foot science complex that meets students’ growing demand for degrees in these fields.

Expanding Research Opportunities

Associate Biology Professor Lynn Kee, PhD, is enthusiastic about engaging Stetson undergraduates in scientific practices and critical thinking using modern molecular and genetic tools. Source: Stetson University

Brown Hall provides ample hands-on opportunities for research with faculty and related endeavours. The 40,000-square-foot building is packed with health and environmental science labs, a GIS computer lab, a Brain Fitness Academy, collaboration spaces, greenhouse and more.

Such facilities prepare students to work on research in the nation’s most elite research institutions. Yahia Adla, a pre-med student from Syria, said his training at Stetson helped him get a prestigious internship this summer at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Meffert Lab. “Securing this position was highly competitive and I am incredibly grateful for the support and endorsement provided by my professors at Stetson University,” said Adla, who is majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Michele Skelton, PhD, associate professor of Health Sciences, top right, works with students at the Anatomage Table, a technologically advanced tool to perform 3D virtual dissections. Source: Stetson University

The renovation to Sage Hall, costing US$10 million, was completed in 2021 and added a new suite of research labs that include two microscopy labs and two tissue culture labs. A vertebrate anatomy teaching lab now houses a new Anatomage Table — an advanced virtual, human 3D anatomy system.

Professor Kee believes the Sage Hall renovation will elevate the quality of research at Stetson. For example, a new microscopy lab houses a high-powered inverted fluorescent microscope system, acquired with a US$266,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Recent graduate Jordan Ogg used the microscope to conduct research on neuronal morphology in worms, which could yield clues in understanding Alzheimer’s disease.

“Ogg will be attending the University of Washington for the Neuroscience PhD doctoral programme this Fall 2023,” said Professor Kee, her mentor.  “She presented at several conferences and won best poster presentation at the Association of Southeastern Biologists conference.”

Other students already are studying at prestigious universities or will soon be heading there to pursue PhDs or work on grants. “Their work with me helped them reach their next goal (attending graduate or medical school, or finding a job in a lab) by providing them with valuable experience in the lab,” Kee said.

Yahia Adla joined the prestigious Basic Science Programme as a summer intern at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Meffert Lab, which studies mechanisms underlying enduring changes in brain function. His research will involve examining the presence of RISC proteins in the mitochondria. Source: Stetson University

Hands-on Training

Brown Hall’s Centre for Optimal Health Across the Lifespan has three signature programmes — each offering services to the community while also providing hands-on training for Stetson undergraduate and graduate students.

The Brain Fitness Academy is a cognitive rehabilitation programme for older adults living with dementia and has shown success in other parts of Florida. A Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) Lab is designed to teach and research the efficacy of stress management and resiliency skills, targeting significant reductions in stress levels, using biofeedback monitors.

Last but not least, a Play Therapy room allows children and their families to engage in expressive arts and therapeutic play activities, which can heal trauma and other mental or behavioural health disorders. The services also provide clinical experience to graduate students in the Department of Counsellor Education.

All in all, Brown Hall provides many rich opportunities for learning and collaboration. “Brown Hall offers the right environment for studying and working,” said Adla. “It has become a space for me and my friends, providing us with a quiet and focused atmosphere to engage in collaborative group projects and productive study sessions.”

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