Student attends Undergraduate Research Day

West Virginia Wesleyan College student Zach Lonergan, a junior biology major and chemistry and honors minor from Elkins, attended the Undergraduate Research Day on Feb. 28 at the state Capitol.

More than 100 undergraduate students presented their original research posters to legislators and the general public. Lonergan presented the research he completed during the summer of 2012 through the West Virginia IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence program at West Virginia University’s leukemia research lab.

His research focused on how one chemotherapy drug can produce cancer tumor cells that can withstand the cancer treatment. He worked on identifying markers that allow the cancer cells to survive following chemotherapy.

Lonergan applied and was accepted to the program, and he presented his research to state legislators, other faculty members from the state and other undergraduate students attending West Virginia institutions. His interest in this field stems from the biomedical research involving the study of bacteria that causes Lyme disease under the supervision of Dr. Melanie Sal, assistant professor of biology at Wesleyan.

“The Undergraduate Research Day was a great opportunity to network with other undergrads doing research and demonstrate to the public and legislators the importance of undergrad research,” Lonergan said. “I know it would not have been possible without the support of my Wesleyan instructors and the opportunities I have been presented with here.”

Lonergan also presented his findings on the Lyme disease research at the Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society Regional Conference on March 22 at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown campus.

This type of research interest was not in his immediate plans when he entered Wesleyan almost three years ago.

“I originally wanted to attend med school, but then I realized I was interested more in the research side of medicine,” he said.

He began focusing his efforts toward disease research while focusing on infectious diseases.

He has had the opportunity to travel internationally through the college, first to Salzburg, Austria for the Salzburg Global Seminar, and then to the Managua, Nicaragua, for an alternative spring break trip. Now he is using his international travel opportunities to focus more on his research interests.

Lonergan will take part in the Irish American Scholar Program in the fall of 2013 at Queen’s University. His research was accepted by a committee, and his semester abroad hopefully will be spent working in research labs and gaining some valuable international research experience. He hopes to utilize this experience to springboard him into a great graduate school.

“My international travel opportunities have and will hopefully set me up for a successful graduate school application process to obtain my career goals,” he said.

Lonergan hopes to one day obtain a Ph.D. in some kind of biomedical field studying diseases. His dream is to work for the Center of Disease Control or the National Institute of Health and do global disease research.

Undergraduate Research Day is an annual event held at the state Capitol to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of research that is being conducted by faculty and students across the state’s higher education system.

Sponsors include the Commission’s Division of Science and Research; Marshall University including the Expansion of STEM Doctoral Education Program; Marshall Health; and West Virginia University including the Office of Graduate Education and Life.