Hidden hero: Student discovers honor of research at UA
While the doctor is acclaimed for curing the patient, it is often the researcher, working obscurely in the laboratory, who discovers the cure.
“The research behind the scenes is really the stuff that’s laying the pathway for anything else to come,” says Deanna Bowman, a senior biochemistry major from Vero Beach, Fla., who discovered her passion for research at The University of Akron.
“Research is critical in the development of novel medications and treatments,” she adds, “and I want to be at the forefront of that research.”
It was the Honors Research Project, a requirement for all students in the Williams Honors College (WHC), which first turned her attention to lab work.
“The Honors Research Project is like a practice dissertation,” Bowman says. “The idea of the project forced me to think about getting involved in research and joining a lab as soon as possible.”
In fact, in Bowman’s freshman year, a fellow AK-ROWDIE (a member of the AK-ROWDIES, a student organization of Zips athletics fans) invited her to view his work on fluorescent dyes and cells in the lab of Dr. Adam Smith, associate professor of chemistry.
“In real time, you could see the cells internalizing things, moving things around, and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Bowman says. “I kind of got hooked from there, and I’m still involved with that lab. I’ve been with Dr. Smith for three and a half years. I love it.”
She has been working in Smith’s lab to study specific protein mutations associated with blindness and cancer. The work will culminate in the submission of her Honors Research Project this spring, when she will graduate.
The value of independent research
“Deanna’s is the perfect example of the unique experience that can be provided by the Honors Research Project, and her work on protein receptors provides important insights into their role within protein function,” says Dr. Dane Quinn, WHC associate dean for undergraduate research. “We encourage our students to explore the possibilities of independent research and find a topic that truly interests them.”
Through working with Smith, Bowman has also had the opportunity to contribute to published research and travel to conferences in Memphis, Tenn., and Chicago, Ill.
She says she was able to take advantage of such opportunities thanks in part to the WHC’s first-priority registration policy, which allows Williams Honors Scholars to register for classes earlier than others.
“Labs can fill up quickly, but I always get the time I want because of the early registration,” she says.
Bowman also credits Dr. Leah Shriver, associate professor of chemistry, and the Department of Chemistry as a whole, for creating an environment in which she was able to thrive.
“Dr. Shriver has been very, very helpful,” she says. “She doesn’t just have you spit back knowledge – she makes you see its real-world applicability and relevance. She’s a great teacher.
“In fact, our whole chemistry department is very strong. Because it’s a smaller department, I know every single one of the faculty members in it. Everything feels a little more personal. They all have an open-door policy, and they want undergraduates to come in and learn the ropes. They really want you to succeed.”
A passion for research
While Bowman had originally planned to go to medical school and become a physician, she now hopes to pursue an advanced degree and eventually a career in medical research, either in academia or industry.
“My time in Dr. Smith’s lab really showed me that I love research,” she says. “I love the idea that I come to work every day and learn something new. I’m extremely curious, and research helps me answer questions and create new questions.
“The WHC was a perfect fit for me, and working there has been a great experience. All of the staff, from Dean Huss to the custodians, are extremely friendly and helpful.”
Opening doors for others
Bowman, grateful for the opportunities she has received at the University, is eager to see similar opportunities made available to others. She plans to participate in outreach programs in graduate school, bringing STEM education to high schools in underprivileged areas.
“I kind of want to level the playing field,” she says. “Not everyone gets the same opportunities. I’ve been very lucky; I’m fortunate to have had amazing opportunities at the University – I’ve had a really good network of people to push me forward and strive to be the best – and not everyone gets that.”
Bowman, who in high school was nominated for “Woman of the Year” by the Junior League of Vero Beach for knitting hats for premature babies, has been an active participant in Make a Difference Day and Relay for Life on campus.
She also helped create a new student organization on campus, Active Minds, dedicated to supporting people with mental illness.
Indeed, whether hidden in a lab coat or disguised as a mere student, this humble hero is never off duty.
“Just doing what I can to help people,” she says.
Williams Honors College
Students in our prestigious Williams Honors College live in the Honors Residence Hall with other high-achieving, self-motivated students. They can apply for additional scholarships, and gain leadership experience through student organizations and through the Honors Leadership Summit. Further, students in the Williams Honors College design their own research focus, and get personal attention from faculty advisers.