Spring 2014 Newsletter | Biology | Marquette University




“What I wish I knew”

BUSEarlier this semester the Biological Undergraduate Society held a student forum entitled "What I Wish I Knew." The BUS leadership led 30 freshmen and sophomores in a discussion of what they wished they had known as biology underclassmen. These leadership members formed a panel of current Marquette biology juniors and seniors to answer questions regarding all aspects of majoring in biology and how to prepare for graduate, medical or other pre-professional school after graduation. This meeting provided an excellent opportunity to answer student questions as well as increase student involvement in BUS.


Research Jumpstart

Research JumpstartIn early April, BUS held "Research Jumpstart" an open house event that gave undergraduate biology students the opportunity to learn about activities occurring in the department, meet new faculty and potentially find a position as a research assistant. Over Research Jumpstart50 undergraduate students attended the event. Each student was able to select 3 labs to visit from 12 different labs open for the event. The lab tours, which were led by faculty and graduate researchers, consisted of demonstrations and hands on activities giving undergraduates an inside look into the daily workings of a research lab. After the tours, faculty and students gathered to enjoy some refreshments and get to know each other better.



The Department of Biological Sciences recognizes outstanding achievement in biological research by presenting three awards, one for each of our majors. The award committee selects the winner from nominations from faculty of junior or senior students who have displayed talent for research, including initiative, independence, and the ability to design and carry out experiments. The Catherine Welsh Smith Research Award winner is selected as the best from these three top students.

The Biological Sciences Academic Achievement Award recognizes the outstanding academic achievement in the Biological Sciences Department by a senior majoring in Biological Sciences, Physiological Sciences, or Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. The award committee selects the winner based on a cumulative GPA of 3.50 and above, the student’s sciences GPA, and a letter of recommendation from a faculty member.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Research Award: Joseph Rehfus ‘14

Joe RehfusJoseph Rehfus has spent the past two years working in Dr. Robert Fitts’ lab doing cardiac electrophysiology research. His project has focused primarily on the electrical remodeling of the whole heart in response to exercise training, assessed using rat hearts as a model system. Specifically, Joe studies the beneficial adaptations that chronic exercise confers to the heart which enable it to better recover from ischemic injury. This research has clinical relevance, as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. In addition to whole heart work, he has spent time studying the calcium-handling properties of isolated cardiomyocytes in order to elucidate the cellular mechanisms responsible for the exercise-induced changes the lab has observed at the organ level. After graduation this May, Joe will be attending Johns Hopkins University as a graduate student in the Cell, Molecular, Developmental Biology, and Biophysics program where he will pursue a PhD.

Physiological Sciences Research Award: Spencer Agnew ‘14

Spencer AgnewSpencer Agnew is a senior Physiological Sciences major and has worked in Dr. Allison Abbott’s lab for the past two years. His research has been focused on microRNA functions in Caenorhabditis elegans. Spencer has done work on a specific microRNA, mir-786, and its function in the regulation of defecation in C. elegans. More recently he has been working to determine if microRNA function in the germline or somatic gonad help regulate ovulation. After graduation Spencer hopes to pursue a career in the healthcare field.




Catherine Welsh Smith Research Award: Ellen Barton ‘14

Ellen BartonEllen Barton, a graduating senior majoring in Physiological Sciences, researches genetic regulation of rice cold tolerance in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Schläppi. Ellen worked to isolate DNA from the rice plants and map the location of cold tolerance genes within the rice genome. After an interesting discovery of a population of early flowering rice plants, her most recent focus has been on the genetic regulation of flowering time. The early flowering plants are being genotyped using polymerase chain reactions (PCR) and a series of diverse primers in hope of finding two mutated genes that are hypothesized to be responsible for the phenotype. After graduation, Ellen will be attending Des Moines University to study podiatric medicine.

Biological Sciences Academic Achievement Award: Ashley Jacobson ‘14

Ashley JacobsonDuring Ashley Jacobson’s time at Marquette she pursued a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (Dr. Dale Noel – academic advisor), as well as a degree in Psychology. Ashley was also in the Honors Program. She worked at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in the Jane B. Pettit Pain Management and Headache Clinic. This team's research focused on the biomechanics, obesity, and chronic pain of children and the influence of Hatha Yoga. These data have had a significant impact in exploring the link between pediatric chronic pain and obesity. Ashley’s research project focused on mobile Health (mHealth) data collection within an underserved, urban youth population. This was done in concert with the yoga studies to assess the value of using texting as a valid form of data collection. Ashley’s post-graduation plan is to attend medical school in the fall to specialize in anesthesiology.




Of the 26 Marquette students elected to Phi Beta Kappa this spring, 3 are majors from the Department of Biological Sciences. Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the U.S. and today there are 280 chapters at American college and universities across the country. Marquette was granted a charter for its Zeta chapter of Wisconsin in 1971. One of the activities of the chapter is to sponsor visiting scholars for presentations at participating universities. The Department of Biological Sciences sponsored Dr. Lynn Margulis (University of Massachusetts) in 1989 and Dr. Elliot Meyerowitz (Cal Tech) in 2005.
2014 Biological Sciences Phi Beta Kappa Inductees: Kara Signorelli, Joseph Rehfus, and Ellen Barton.



Neha Ahuja is going to graduate school at Colorado State University.


Ellen Barton will be attending Des Moines University to study podiatric medicine.


Cody Boese will be attending graduate school at the University of Arizona in the fall.


Tom Kaminski plans to attend Midwestern University School of Dental Medicine in Downers Grove, IL in the fall.


Ashley Jacobson plans is to attend medical school in the fall to specialize in anesthesiology.


Joseph Rehfus is attending Johns Hopkins University next year to pursue his Ph.D. He was also accepted at Vanderbilt.


Christine Robinson will be starting in a PhD program in Molecular and Structural Biology at the University of Minnesota. She is interested in working with faculty who are isolating cancerous tumor genes in mouse models.


Kara Signorelli is going to medical school next year at the Medical College of Wisconsin.




Biological Sciences Department

Marquette University, Wehr Life Sciences
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P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
(414) 288-7355