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Senior earns prestigious Ph.D. program admission

Mar 30, 2023
A woman in a white lab coat poses in a lab.
A woman in a white lab coat poses in a lab.

KOKOMO, Ind. —Hands-on research experience gained alongside Indiana University Kokomo faculty gave Olivia Terry an edge when she applied to graduate school.

Terry, who graduates from IU Kokomo in May, was accepted into the prestigious Indiana BioMedical Gateway Ph.D. program through the IU School of Medicine—Indianapolis, a program that accepts only 30 students annually from approximately 300 applicants.

“IU Kokomo isn’t just a small school,” Terry said. “We are doing significant research here. We have amazing projects and programs that future students can take advantage of. A large part of getting into graduate school is the interview. The first thing they asked me was, ‘Tell us about your research.’ The experience I had was a huge aspect to getting in.”

Terry took biomedical classes through Project Lead the Way in high school, and knew she wanted to continue in that field when she came to IU Kokomo. After taking a few classes with Hisako Masuda, associate professor of biochemistry, she became a research assistant in Masuda’s lab, first on a project examining mutants of E. coli bacteria to see how long it takes them to recover from being dormant to avoid antibiotics.

She’s currently in the early stages of a project researching inflammatory indicators in human subjects who are on a pesco vegetarian diet with cumin and ginger supplements, and how that affects cytokine levels. Cytokines are small proteins that control the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. When released, they signal the immune system to do its job.

She’s presented research posters at professional conferences, and at IU Kokomo’s Undergraduate Research Conference, where she received a notable mention.

Masuda noted that Terry has been committed to her research.

“She is very passionate about science,” Masuda said. “She puts forth 100 percent on all course assignments. She also participates in many extracurricular activities, such as scientific research, being a tutor, working for the biology lab, and outreach activities.”

Terry, from Noblesville, said participating in research helped her build community on campus, both with classmates and faculty.

“It made me feel more involved on campus because I’m here constantly working. I’ve gotten to know people better, and a lot of people in the lab have become friends,” she said. “Dr. Masuda has been a great mentor to me, helping me improve my skill in the lab and in scientific writing.

“Being a woman in STEM can have its setbacks, and having a woman as a mentor helps with the connection, just being able to relate,” Terry said.

She’s excited to have been selected for her first-choice graduate program, noting that she chose it because it’s an umbrella program, meaning she doesn’t have to choose a specialty area immediately. First-year students take core classes first, with advising and mentoring, and then choose from specialty programs including anatomy and cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, cellular and integrative physiology, medical and molecular genetics, medical neuroscience, microbiology and immunology, musculoskeletal health sciences, pathology, and pharmacology and toxicology.

Terry said participating in the KEY Summer Institute before her freshman year set her up for success.

“It definitely made me feel more confident about going to college,” she said. “I was a shy, introverted person, and it was hard for me to make friends. I was worried about communicating with professors and peers.”

Her KEY faculty were J.R. Pico, teaching professor of Spanish and humanities, and Deb Jaworski, lecturer in mathematics, who pushed her to meet people and try activities on campus. Those contacts led to on-campus jobs as a math tutor and biology lab assistant, among other opportunities.

“Having connections with students and professors has helped me have a great experience,” she said. “Having more lab work helped expand the skills I need in the future. Having connections between all kinds of people on campus are really important.”

 Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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