When people are explaining why Teresa Sweat is such a promising student, they tend to start with her perfect academic record: a 4.0 grade-point average throughout her undergraduate and graduate careers, GRE scores in the top five percentile, a dozen prestigious scholarships and awards. From there they go on to her quick grasp of lab techniques, her contributions to research and publications. And they never fail to mention that she’s a pleasure to work with. Even in Molecular and Cellular Biology, a program that draws a lot of exceptional students, that’s a combination that makes her stand out.
Teresa is this year’s winner of the Lenore Bayley Graduate Fellowship, which recognizes academic excellence and promise. A Kansas farm girl, Teresa’s enthusiasm and hard-work ethic have delighted teachers and colleagues throughout her academic career. During her undergraduate studies in biology at Kansas State University, she received six scholarships, including the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. She had the unusual honor of working in a plant pathology laboratory through all four of her undergraduate years, co-authoring two research publications and acquiring a range of advanced technical skills.
Teresa was accepted into OSU’s Molecular and Cellular Biology program in 2000. She chose the program because it offers a solid foundation of courses in molecular and cellular biology, but encourages specialization. “I’m in a very strong, diverse department, and I get to interact with faculty and students in everything from animal cell biology to field-plant pathology,” Teresa explains. “It’s important to have an overall perspective on the field of biology in order to understand the wider implications of my own research.”
Working in the plant pathology lab of Dr. Thomas J. Wolpert, Teresa is studying how plants respond to pathogen attack. She exposes the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to a fungal toxin, then examines the different reactions of susceptible and resistant specimens. Her research is focused at the genetic level, asking questions about which genes are involved, and how the protein products of these genes interact in pathogen detection, signal transduction pathways, and plant defense mechanisms.
In both the plant pathology department and the MCB program, Teresa is known as a generous community member. She volunteers for MCB recruitment efforts and has served as a student representative to her Department Promotion and Tenure Committee. This year, she’s enjoying directing the Molecular and Cellular Biology Journal Club, which meets every week or two to discuss new findings related to the field.
“It’s all over the board because there’s such a wide variety of departments represented among MCB students,” Teresa says. “We use it as an open forum. I get people to agree to present, and they bring an article out of a journal or maybe some of their own research or a proposal for us to discuss. It’s a chance for students to practice public speaking, get some feedback, and have fun learning about all the things people are working on.”
Teresa plans to continue her work at OSU through 2006. She is primarily funded through a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, the first OSU student ever to have received this highly competitive award. Ultimately, she’d like to teach and run a research lab of her own in the field of molecular plant pathology.