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Posts Tagged ‘genetics’

As the first in her family to earn an undergraduate degree, Melissa Spear has set high academic standards for herself. She plans to earn her BS in Biology from the University of Texas El Paso and then continue her education with graduate and doctorate studies. Melissa received a $3000 EADS/Senator Ted Stevens Memorial Scholarship through ThanksUSA for the 2011/2012 academic year and is eager to share her experiences and academic goals with ThanksUSA supporters.

The daughter of SFC William Spear, US Army (RET), Melissa’s military childhood helped to shape her into the confident, diligent young woman that she is today.

“My father was in the Army for 20 years before he retired. Because of his career, I’ve had the chance to live in Germany, New York, Georgia, and Texas. I was able to see many different parts of the world. At the age of 20, I can definitely say that I’ve been to many more places than my peers have been to. Life as a military child has taught me to be fortunate of my experiences. I may not have been the child who was able to grow up in her hometown, but I can definitely say that I’ve been able to experience different cultures from all over. I may not have been the girl who’s had the same friends since kindergarten, but I have met people from all over. I’ve been able to see what this country offers and it motivates me to make a difference. I’m very proud of being a military child and being able to say that my father spent a part of his life serving this country,” says Melissa.

Since she is most interested in medical research, Melissa spent her summer working in the lab of Patrick Phillips at the University of Oregon. “My project is focused on understanding how organisms react to a stressful environment. We know that stress tends to have a negative impact, but we’re interested in finding how it affects lifespan and how it affects genetics. In the future, this research could possibly help in delaying the onset of age related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. We’re not necessarily trying to find ways for people to live longer, but rather trying to find ways where they could live a much healthier life. Why live to be 90 years old when the last 15 years of life is spent having to fight Alzheimer’s? This project is important, because we’re hoping that we’ll be able to find that genes that control stress resistance and lifespan. I’ve been working with worms that have been living in a standard lab environment but are then selected for acute stress. I’ve been extracting RNA from these worms and having them sent off to be sequenced so we can look at their genetic lines.”

This invaluable experience has bolstered Melissa’s own research goals. She explains, “I’m most interested in understanding how cancer runs through continuous generations in a certain family. Why is one family always more at risk for a specific type of cancer? If your mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, why does that make her daughter more at risk for contracting it too? My ultimate goal is to be able to teach at a university and run my own lab.”

Though academic success is a priority for Melissa, she is also dedicated to the UTEP University Honors Council. Made up of UTEP honor students, the University Honors Council devotes many hours to the Reynolds House, a shelter for women and children. “We try to provide as much as we can for the kids by hosting fun events for them as well as providing many goods for their needs.” When she’s not studying or volunteering with the University Honors Council, the well-rounded Melissa enjoys baking and dancing.

The ThanksUSA team wishes everyone a very safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. While you’re relaxing with friends and family, take a moment to reflect on the thousands of military families who have loved ones serving here at home and abroad. We leave this week’s feature with a special message from Melissa about receiving the EADS/Senator Ted Stevens/ThanksUSA Scholarship:

“Receiving the ThanksUSA Scholarship has motivated me to work harder for my goals. I’m striving to graduate from school debt free and every little bit of money helps. I want to become a scientific researcher, but that path comes with a price. I’ve seen people give up their dreams, because of the time and money it takes and I do not want to be one of them. I’m very grateful for every bit of help I get because it brings me one step closer to my goal.”

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