Following Footsteps

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
May 12, 2015

Once biology major Alyssa King ’15 recognized the Bradley community’s impact on her classroom accomplishments, she decided to follow her mentors’ paths into academia. As a result, King will attend graduate school at Georgetown University in hopes of joining university faculty. 

King, a Tinley Park, Illinois, native, spent five semesters in Dr. Melinda Faulkner’s microbiology lab and contributed to a breakthrough in Faulkner’s bacterial research.  The lab experience brought focus to King’s career goals and added a significant achievement to her portfolio. 

“The research we do here is a great opportunity we might not get elsewhere,” King said. “I realized biology could open doors and the lab experience did just that.”

King joined Faulkner’s lab as a sophomore and picked up her mentor’s interest in seeking to understand an organism’s antioxidant defense against potentially harmful reactive molecules. A year later, King demonstrated that a previously uncharacterized enzyme helps to protect bacteria from toxic peroxides.

That proved to be a significant breakthrough in Faulkner’s research.

“We tried a lot of different things to make that work,” King said. “Since Dr. Faulkner had been looking at this for awhile and none of us could get results, we high-fived around the lab the first time it happened.” 

While in Faulkner’s lab, King, in collaboration with fellow student Nicole Broden ’15, of Devil’s Lake, N.D., twice received a research grant from Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society. King and Broden presented their work at the 2014 and 2015 honor society’s district conventions and the 2015 Illinois State Academy of Science meeting.

King notched another achievement when she was accepted into Georgetown’s doctoral program, which is a top-100 school in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of graduate biology programs. She is interested in how bacteria cause disease and may be investigating the headline-grabbing infection methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — better known as MRSA.

“I applied there on a whim because it was one of my ‘reach’ schools,” King said. “It’s a great place that’s similar to Bradley with a small department in which everyone collaborates.”

She attributed her academic and research success to ambitious classmates, supportive faculty and a collaborative research environment. As a senior, her lab featured four other seniors who will pursue doctoral degrees in biology, medicine and optometry after leaving the Hilltop. 

“We have a congenial attitude because everyone works together,” King said. “So many fields in one department make this an excellent learning environment.”

As she blossomed from department mentorship, she sought opportunities to mentor younger labmates. In addition to sparking others’ interest in science, those relationships guided her toward a long-term goal of following her faculty mentors into higher education.

“With experiences like that, I’ve enjoyed mentoring other students and hope to do something similar with my career,” she said. “It would be fun to pay it forward to students who might not have the opportunity to interact with faculty as much as I did.”