My scientific training first began at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. I worked as an undergraduate researcher on a grant that was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. This experience directed my interest from medical school towards obtaining a Ph.D.
I entered the Graduate Program in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Pittsburgh and was trained in the laboratory of Dr. James M. Pipas. In the Pipas Lab I investigated pathways that govern cell proliferation and death in a neural stem cell line. Specifically, we used Serum Free Mouse Embryo (SFME) cells, astrocyte precursors, which are dependent upon epidermal growth factor (EGF) for survival and proliferation. Removal of EGF from the medium results in the G1 arrest and apoptosis of the cells. We have shown that the expression of Simian Virus 40 (SV40) Large Tumor Antigen (Tag) in SFME cells blocks apoptosis and allows cell survival and proliferation in the absence of EGF. We went on to show that mutations in the J domain or retinoblastoma (Rb) family binding motif abolish this ability. Therefore, we conclude that Tag must act on one or more members of the Rb family to inhibit SFME cell apoptosis.
I received my Ph.D. in 1998 and joined the Department in 1999 as the Outreach Coordinator. The Biological Sciences Department is active in community outreach programs. These programs include workshops for high school teachers covering current topics in DNA Techniques, Developmental Biology and Environmental Science. With the development of kits, teachers are provided all of the equipment and reagents necessary to repeat these experiments in the classroom. We also run summer science camps for high school and middle school students. As the Outreach Coordinator, I oversee and develop these programs, as well as design and teach the Preparation for Biology course (Biosc 0100).In this capacity, I am able to draw upon my love for science and implement my belief that it should be accessible to all students.