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Although she has more than a year until she receives her bachelor’s degree, Marquis Scholar Colleen Walsh’06 (Manasquan, N.J.) is conducting the kind of research usually reserved for students in graduate school. The biology major is involved in a yearlong research project with Laurie Caslake, associate professor of biology, to study bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Walsh and Stephanie Giordano ’05 (Blauvelt, N.Y.) are involved in Caslake’s long-term examination of the impact of mercury on a contaminated lake’s bacterial community.

“I am working with Stephanie to study bacteria isolates which were collected from water and sediment samples taken from a mercury-polluted lake in New York,” Walsh says. “We are currently analyzing them for mercury and antibiotic resistances. The theory is that mercury-resistant samples will exhibit resistance to more antibiotics than mercury-sensitive samples because the genes which code for both of these are often transferred together.”

There is a physical link in some organisms between mercury resistance and antibiotic resistance, according to Caslake, and this study tests whether that link holds true in this environmental state at Onondaga Lake in upstate New York.

“As the lake is cleaned of metals and salt deposits, it will be advantageous to have a snapshot of the current state of the lake,” says Caslake. “Other people are doing that with the physical properties of the lake; we have some information to contribute on the microbial community and how it is changing over time.”

“It’s extremely independent,” says Walsh in contrasting this project to usual classroom environments. “And I am building on the lab techniques I have learned in class, not just following a routine. It’s different because I have to come up with experimental routines, figure out the procedure, and plan an experimental design, rather than simply follow a class experiment.”

Caslake asked Walsh to join her research group after having her as a student in Molecular Biology last fall. This kind of opportunity is why Walsh chose Lafayette.

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I was four years old,” she says. “Competition for medical school is intense and my research experiences here at Lafayette will set my application apart. Other [undergraduate] schools don’t give the opportunity for research that Lafayette provides. The opportunities for research are amazing; that is a big reason why I came here.”

She also praises the culture of mentoring at Lafayette.

“Professor Caslake has a great way of explaining things,” says Walsh. “If I don’t understand something she will come up with an alternate way to explain it until I really understand it. She is highly qualified as a mentor and teacher, but allows us to learn and explore on our own, making the lessons we learn even more beneficial.”

“She also cares about us outside the classroom too, and often invites us to eat with her and her family, or plans special celebrations for our birthdays or major events like taking the MCATS.”

Walsh is president of Alpha Phi sorority, a peer tutor in chemistry, a student intern on the Lafayette Leadership Education Committee, and a member of the Crew Club. She has volunteered at Easton Hospital and for Kids in the Community, an after-school program for children coordinated by Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars such as Walsh receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at last year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News