Undergraduates gain veterinary research experience through Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program
September 11, 2023
Two undergraduate aspiring veterinarians got hands-on research experience at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine this summer through the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP).
MAOP is a Virginia Tech program that supports diverse graduate and undergraduate students. For undergraduate students who wish to pursue graduate studies, MAOP offers summer research opportunities.
This summer, senior Kennedi Essex and junior Angel Collins, both Animal and Poultry Sciences majors at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, worked with research assistant professor of clinical pathology Priscila Serpa on a variety of projects.
Another project in Serpa’s lab involves the development of a library of cells to determine if matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS), a machine typically used to identify microbes, can be used to detect tumor cells.
“They started by doing a retrospective collection of cytological smears of patients suspected of having lymphoma and melanoma from our archives. After that, they learned how to do immunocytochemistry, using antibodies to differentiate different cell types on cytology and blood smears. In addition, they helped me with a few field blood collections from horses,” said Serpa.
Collins worked on canine cells and Essex worked on equine cells, learning how to use MALDI-TOF MS and other tools to process and analyze the cells. They presented their research and hard work alongside other undergraduate Virginia Tech students at the Summer Research Symposium.
The experience taught Collins and Essex more than techniques and practical knowledge. Over the summer, they were challenged to think critically to solve problems.
"I've gained confidence—I feel better about working independently, and it was a good experience doing research because I was able to work inside the hospital. It really helped me develop all my skills, like communication and my confidence,” said Essex.
In addition to working in the lab, Collins and Essex shadowed veterinarians in various departments in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, observing professionals in community practice, anesthesiology, and necropsy.
"This internship has been the most helpful experience towards my goal of going to vet school and becoming a veterinarian. I got to know a lot of the faculty there, and it helped me network. It also opened my eyes to the options that I have within veterinary medicine,” said Collins.