Biology major wins National Institutes of Health award

Erin Jaske 2011Erin Jaske ’11 has won a Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Program Award from the National Institutes of Health. The award provides her an opportunity to spend one to two years learning sequencing techniques and conducting genomics research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont.

She already has begun working side by side with some of the leading scientists in the world. Because of AP credits from high school, she was able to graduate from Wheaton early and began full time at the lab in February. However, she plans to return to Wheaton to be a part of Commencement.

“I am very excited about this opportunity, and look forward to gaining research experience,” she said.

Erin Jaske 2011Jaske, who grew up in Colorado, majored in biology, with a minor in European history. The Balfour Scholar’s love of biology began her freshman year in high school with a teacher “who made the lines of my biology textbook come alive in a whole new way,” she said.

“I became enthralled with the subject, and seized every opportunity I could to learn more. I dissected sharks and raised a colony of fruit flies to see Mendel’s laws at work, studied the dynamics of pond ecosystems and attended cadavers. My favorite experiment was raising chickens and feeding them supplements expected to act as steroids in order to observe the effects.”

When she arrived at Wheaton she had two main goals in mind. “I wanted to take a wide variety of courses and eventually pinpoint where my specific academic interests were, and I wanted to spend a significant amount of time abroad and learn about other cultures, and experience a different way of life.”

She achieved both goals and more.

Last summer, she was Wheaton’s Suzanne Fogelson Golden Fellow, which allowed her to intern at the Tennessee State Department of Health in Nashville. While there, she worked in the vector-borne disease division, where she studied the disease La Crosse encephalitis. She spent her junior year abroad at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and at University College Cork in Ireland.

“As the semesters passed, it was always the health-related biology courses that fit into my schedule. Somewhere along the way these classes became more than just a requirement that I needed for my major. They became an area of focus that got me seriously thinking about a career in public health,” she said.

Jennifer Lanni, visiting assistant professor in biology, said she was delighted, but not surprised, to hear that Jaske had won the extremely competitive award.

“As I wrote in my letter of recommendation, Erin has strong academics, great lab skills, and a friendly, easygoing personality— the perfect combination of traits for a member of a research group,” Lanni said. “In my mind, Erin is the perfect example of how following your personal passions through a liberal arts education can help a student discover his or her future career. Erin studied abroad not once, but twice, because of her fascination with other cultures. She took challenging biology courses that sparked her interest in infectious diseases. And finally, she found a way to synthesize these seemingly disparate interests in the field of global public health.”

Jaske said she ultimately wants to get a master’s degree in public health, with a focus on epidemiology. “This research will give me the opportunity to make connections and consult with professionals in the field. There are a lot of parallels between this type of research and epidemiology. That’s why I became very interested in pursuing it in my year off before graduate school.”

Photos / Anita Mora