I moved around a lot as a kid, but I consider myself to be from Mount Pleasant, SC, outside of Charleston. I received my B.S. in Polymer and Fiber Engineering at Georgia Tech. While at Tech, my research mostly focused on high performance fibers, such as precursor carbon fiber (with Prof. Satish Kumar) and ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene fibers (with Prof. Donggang Yao). I completed a summer REU at Vanderbilt University in the Chemistry Department with Prof. Eva Harth. During my REU, my research focused on synthesizing copolymer using polyglycidol derivatives for drug delivery applications.
As a freshman in college, I took an intro polymer seminar class. Through that class, I learned how broad the field of polymer science is. I loved the idea that polymer science has such far-reaching applications that if I ever got bored with what I was doing, I could easily find something else to do while staying in the realm of polymer science. Why did I choose UMass PSE? The reputation of the department is fantastic. This was definitely a deciding factor. But another reason is that this department facilitates a very cooperative environment among the students and the faculty. I felt like that kind of close-knit, encouraging environment would be a good fit for me.
My research projects focus on DNA nanotechnology. In one of my projects, I am studying the effect of nanoparticle stiffness on cell uptake for applications in drug delivery. There has been a lot of research to develop nanoparticles to deliver cancer drugs to specific places in the body; these nanoparticles are very diverse with respect to the stiffness of the materials, ranging from very soft hydrogels to very stiff gold nanoparticles. Most of the work to understand the efficacy of these nanoparticles focuses on size and shape, but the effect of stiffness is not well understood. In my work, I am characterizing the stiffness of a DNA nanoparticle, and then changing its stiffness in such a way as to keep size and shape constant. In this way, I will be able to better understand the effect of nanoparticle stiffness on cell uptake.
In addition to my research, I have been involved in the high school outreach program ASPIRE since my first year, as a volunteer and as a coordinator. It has been such a pleasure to see how the program makes such an impact on the high school students, and also on the graduate student volunteers. Sharing your research experience with high school students and seeing their faces when they get excited about something cool or learn something new is a very rewarding experience. My experiences with outreach renew my excitement for research.
In 2014 and 2015 I received an honorable mention for both the NSF GRFP and the Ford Foundation Fellowship. This year, I received the Graduate Assistantship in Areas of National Need Fellowship. GAANN Fellowships are funded by the US Dept. of Education.
My plan is to pursue a postdoctoral position, probably at a national lab. My goal is to either become a faculty member or work at a national lab. Either path I choose, I am very passionate about outreach in addition to promoting diversity in STEM, so I will work that in to my future plans as well.