Collaborating with Professional Scientists

July 17, 2019

Ogden, Iowa, native Kami Wheelock wasn’t supposed to land at Grand View. But unfulfilled expectations at a Florida school left her scrambling for a new place to study science and play softball. Also interested in the sciences, multi-sport athlete Alli Rupert of Pleasant Hill, Iowa, wanted to stay in the Midwest for college. A chance to play soccer for Grand View drew her to the school. Two years in, both students are confident their experiences will launch them into careers filled with opportunities. Both have an eye on medical school.

“I came for softball and ended up falling in love with the academic programs,” says Wheelock, a double major in biology and biochemistry. Last fall Wheelock and Rupert, also a biochemistry major, were invited to join a Grand View science team as part of a national program called CREST (Connecting Researchers, Educators and Students). The program provides students with real-world research experience—science as it is practiced in today’s laboratories. CREST teams collaborate with a notable researcher to build a physical model of a protein based on the researcher’s work. They then present and explain their model to the researcher at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. One of the program goals is to expand the use of 3D models as educational tools in the classroom.

This is the first year Grand View has fielded a CREST team, organized by chemistry professors Dr. Bonnie Hall and Dr. Laura Salazar. Students Antonio Santa Maria, Tom Le, Elma Omanovic and Cassandra Corley rounded out the team. The Grand View team built a model of the Killer Protein HigB, based on the science of Dr. Christine Dunham of Emory University. Team members chose Rupert and Wheelock to present their model at the conference in Orlando this spring.

Rupert says she was both excited and nervous to meet one-on-one with Dunham. “I just hoped my basic science knowledge would be enough to answer her questions,” she says. In addition to their own presentation, students attended lectures and presentations of other distinguished professionals in the field.

“CREST introduced us to scientists we never would have had the chance to meet until well into our careers,” Wheelock says. She is now considering an MD-PhD program. “My goal is still to be a doctor, whether it is a surgeon or a researcher.” Rupert, who tore her ACL in high school, wants to be an orthopedic surgeon to “help people recover from their injuries and get back to their sport as quickly as possible.” But she agrees the CREST experience has broadened her horizons. “Everything about science is really interesting and this gave me a chance to see what the environment of research is like. It was cool to do a different type of science than what I was used to.”