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(From left) Ellen Swogger of Miles City.; Jeremy Mitchell of Whitefish; Kristi De Vries (right) of Roundup and her advisor Tracy Dougher (Jeannine Lintner photos)

Chemistry sounded good until the sinus infections
Projects steer students toward interests, careers

by Annette Trinity-Stevens and Evelyn Boswell

Ellen Swogger didn't envision herself studying mice sinuses in college.

She disliked biology in high school. And physics, come to think of it, wasn't her strong suit either.

Instead, Swogger figured she'd stick to chemistry--her true academic interest and perhaps one inherited from her grandparents and older sister--until, that is, the sinus project came up.

Now Swogger, a Miles City native in her junior year at MSU, is studying mice sinuses from a research physician at the University of Chicago. Swogger uses lab techniques she learned this past summer to see what kind of bacteria are in the samples.

Ultimately the project is aimed at better understanding sinus infections, which afflict both adults and children and are thought to be caused by a biofilm. Biofilms are sticky clusters of bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses. Biofilms can be hard to treat because their sticky coating keeps antibiotics out.

Swogger is one of hundreds of undergraduates at MSU each year who tackle independent projects in labs and studios across campus. During the summer alone, MSU offers at least 15 research programs for undergraduates. Throughout the year, MSU makes integrating research with teaching a high priority.

Students sign on for the money or credits, or both, but say the payoffs of doing research go beyond the measurable. The experiences steer them toward possible careers, make them more marketable, offer them advantages in the classroom and build long-lasting relationships with faculty mentors.


Erica Dobbs of Columbus. (Jeannine Lintner photos)

"I wanted to make sure this is what I wanted to do before I got a lot further in my education," said Erica Dobbs, a biotechnology major from Columbus.

Dobbs studies exotic fungi that may yield compounds beneficial in human medicine.

"My main goal would be to give back to Montana through science," Dobbs said.

Crystal Hepp of Conrad is analyzing parts of the human genome and said the experience has made her microbiology major more relevant. She hopes to become a physician's assistant but hasn't completely ruled out medical school.

"The research has helped me understand my major better and is applicable to what we're talking about in my classes," Hepp said. "It's really cool."

Jeremy Mitchell of Whitefish said he used to think of research the way some people think of watching sewing tips on TV.

Bor...i...ng.

But his opinion began to change after growing bacteria for a project that could lead to a remedy for people who have a certain type of staph infection. Like many students on campus, the chemical engineering major did the project through the Undergraduate Scholars Program at MSU.

"I enjoy the people that I work with, and I enjoy seeing the reason we are doing the research and where it's going and how it might be beneficial to medicine eventually," he said.

Mitchell was busy applying to medical schools last spring but said his outlook on research changed so much that he could otherwise pursue a career in it.

A career in horticulture is where Kristi De Vries thinks she's headed following an internship in Michigan gardens and an undergraduate research project at MSU aimed at developing plants specific to Montana growing conditions.

A graduate of Roundup High School, De Vries didn't know what to major in during her first semester in Bozeman. But her answer became more obvious after thinking about the huge gardens her grandmother had in eastern Montana.

"I really like to garden. It really makes me happy. How cool would it be to have a whole career in it?" she asked herself. "I love it."

Life on Ice | Big things from tiny technology | Avalanche Research | Searching Through Hell
Genetics are key to those amber waves of grain | From the bone beds and back
Finding hope in hard times | Group rethinks radar with lasers and crystals | Foreword | Home
Student passion, purpose create "Way of the Warrior"
Chemistry sounded good until the sinus infections
Research Notes | Faculty and Student Awards | Research Expenditures for Fiscal Year 2003

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