Before coming to LSU’s College of Engineering, Mollie Smoak “hadn’t done much science-related at all.” Now, the biological engineering junior is working as a research assistant, she’s published six research papers, and most recently, she was awarded the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.
The national scholarship, awarded annually to outstanding college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue a career in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering, covers the cost of tuition, fees, and books, among other expenses, up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Smoak received one of three scholarships awarded in Louisiana. Biological engineering junior Katie Hogan received honorable mention.
“They both are very bright students,” said Daniel Hayes, professor of biological engineering and facilitator of the Hayes Research Group. Both Smoak and Hogan work as research assistants in Hayes’ nanoscience and tissue engineering lab.
“I think Mollie’s work ethic, combined with her research success set her apart,” Hayes added. “She has six papers published in undergrad, which is more than I had when I was in grad school.”
Projects that both Smoak and Hogan tackle in the research lab include building a hybrid scaffold for bone regeneration and creating stem cell sheets for tissue engineering.
The students’ involvement with undergraduate research began freshmen year. Smoak and Hogan participated in LA-STEM Research Scholars Program, which provides exceptional first-year students with the opportunity to enhance their academic experiences and leadership skills through networking, advising, tutoring and financial support.
“The LA-STEM program encouraged me to become involved in undergraduate research during my first semester here,” Hogan explained. “It has led me to four co-authorships on papers and has given me the opportunity to do summer research at Ohio State University and the Institut de Biologie Structurale in Grenoble, France.”
Smoak’s experience with LA-STEM was equally influential.
“My brothers and I were all first-generation college students,” Smoak said. “We didn’t really know what to expect. Before coming to LSU, I hadn’t really done much science-related at all. I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without the resources afford to me through LA-STEM and the school, and motivation from Dr. Hayes.”
This summer, Smoak will be participating in Amgen’s Scholars Program at the Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology, or MIT. The program allows undergraduates to engage in faculty-mentored research in science and biotechnology areas. Participants will be come fully integrated in MIT’s research community throughout their stay. Smoak said she is to participate in transitional research with a medical focus.
Hogan’s summer plans include participating in the SMART Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. The program is designed to prepare students for careers in medical science through biomedical research, daily seminars and career development activities.
After graduation, both Smoak and Hogan intend to further their studies and contributions to the field of regenerative medicine. Smoak plans to create low cost, effective surgeries for military and veteran affairs hospitals, while Hogan would like to develop treatment for chronic respiratory diseases.
Article by M.B. Humphrey, communications assistant, LSU College of Engineering.