Friday, August 31, 2018

What did I do with my summer vacation? Research.


What do karate, six cats and a dog, the violin, and biochemistry have in common? Bryanna Mountford.


Reynolds Honors student Bryanna Mountford has the intense focus evident in many math, science and engineering majors. It’s the kind of focus that earned her a Black Belt in Karate at the age of 17. It’s the kind of focus that kept her in the National Honors Society throughout high school. It’s the kind of focus that keeps her practicing the guitar, violin and piano. And, it’s the kind of focus that helped her discover her passion here at Reynolds. (Bryanna is pictured here, last on the right, with her project team. Below, Bryanna strikes a karate pose.)

Bryanna may have shifted gears a bit as she figured out her major, but she readily says that’s why she came to Reynolds. From Business Administration, to science with a concentration on nutrition, ultimately to biochemistry with a focus on research, her time at Reynolds has given her the opportunity to find her way. In her first semester at Reynolds a friend told her about the Honors program. By her third semester in Spring 2018 she had been accepted. Her involvement in the Honors program garnered her the opportunity to discover scientific research. 

Bryanna’s discovery started when Professor Karen Neal suggested that she apply for an summer intern position on a research project at the University of Richmond. “I didn’t expect to get in,” said Bryanna. But on the basis of her transcripts and letters of recommendation, she did get in, and in late May, shortly after her second year at Reynolds had ended, she began working on a research project alongside sophomores and seniors from four-year institutions.
 
But Bryanna wasn’t involved in just ANY research project. She was part of an REU, a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The REU program gives undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in nationally and internationally recognized research. REU Sites, such as the one at University of Richmond, are created based on independent proposals to initiate and conduct projects that engage promising students in research across a wide range of scientific disciplines.

Bryanna’s internship involved a biochemistry-based project. Her job, along with five other undergrads, was to grow bacteria and isolate proteins. “I enjoyed the internship much more than I thought I would. We all had different levels of experience, but that didn’t matter. The work was very fast-paced, we all pulled together, and helped each other. And, we worked well together.”

They worked so well together that Bryanna and one of her teammates were invited to an international conference in Canada to present their findings. “The conference was motivating and intimidating at the same time,” Bryanna said, “Motivating because I got to listen to experts in the field. Intimidating because some of what they said went, whoosh, way over my head. But, it was motivating too because I got to see what I could do if I went in to research.”

With only a short few weeks of summer vacation, by August 20 Bryanna was back at the books. Her goal now is to graduate from Reynolds this semester and apply to University of Richmond for the Fall 2019. Why U of R? “Well,” Bryanna says, “It’s pretty. And, it’s awesome.” After that, it’s graduate school. Being a biochemical researcher takes a bit of education, and a whole lot of Bryanna-like focus.