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UW Student from Evanston to Conduct Genetics Research

March 27, 2018
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Alexandra "Monique" Weaver

University of Wyoming senior Alexandra “Monique” Weaver first fell in love with science as an Evanston High School (EHS) student.

Weaver already was studying math, chemistry and Advanced Placement (AP) biology at EHS when she seriously began thinking about her future. Learning in AP biology how all of the human body’s complex genetic makeup is rooted in four simple nucleotide bases fascinated Weaver. That fed her desire to learn more.

This has led her to seek postgraduate studies, thanks to a pair of UW programs. As a Ronald E. McNair Scholar at UW, Weaver has accepted a fully funded position in the Ph.D. program in genetics at the University of Iowa. She will study genetically inherited diseases and disease prevention through genetic modification techniques.

While she was still in high school, Weaver’s cousin was born with PKU (Phenylketonuria), a rare genetic disorder that can lead to severe brain damage. This increased Weaver’s desire to learn more about genetics so that she could contribute to discoveries related to preventing genetic diseases, such as the one that has affected her family and others.

Her path toward a doctoral research degree was supported by the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a federal program aimed at preparing junior high and high school students for college. The federally funded program, offered and supported by UW, helps students believe that they can achieve the goal of attending and succeeding in college.

Weaver says she has fond memories of participating in the Youth Opportunities Unlimited Center in Evanston, working with her GEAR UP tutor and taking field trips to Western Wyoming Community College (WWCC) in Rock Springs, where she would eventually enroll and begin her postsecondary education.

The GEAR UP program, through its regular mentoring sessions and tutoring, helped Weaver develop an academic plan, guiding her through the unfamiliar and sometimes daunting college application process. At WWCC, she was further influenced by a biology professor, who encouraged her to pursue a doctoral degree and a career as a genetics researcher.

After transferring to UW as a junior, Weaver participated in another federal program designed to help first-generation college students, the McNair Scholars Program. The program is named for Ronald E. McNair, a first-generation college graduate who went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was among the astronauts who perished tragically aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.

The McNair Scholars Program encourages and provides mentorship to students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds to pursue a Ph.D. The program pairs students with faculty mentors to conduct independent original research projects; guides students through the complex process of identifying potential graduate schools and applying to graduate school; and helps to demystify the culture of graduate school.

For her UW research project, Weaver worked with botany Professor Cynthia Weinig and postdoctoral botany Research Associate Marcus Brock on “Microbial succession vs plant development effects on rhizopher community structure in Arabidopsis thaliana.”

“The McNair Scholars Program provided me with the experience and encouragement that I needed to get accepted into a competitive Ph.D. program,” Weaver says. “The staff truly care about all the students that pass through the program, and I cannot thank them enough for all of their support.”

As for her professional career, Weaver plans to become a faculty member and researcher at a university, passing on her knowledge and experience to the next generation of students and researchers. One of her personal goals is to give back to others by becoming a faculty mentor for other McNair Scholar students.

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