Student Star: Jennifer Nguyen

Name: Jennifer Nguyen
Major: Biology, Honors in the Major

“We put all the pieces together and were finally able to see the data we were looking for. This exhilarating feeling was my first true triumph in research.”

By coming to Florida State as a freshman with 42 college credits and taking classes every summer, Jennifer Nguyen finished her course work — including a successfully defended Honors in the Major thesis — in three years. In June, she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with Honors in the Major.

Last fall and spring she was a teaching assistant. “I taught biology for non-majors.” In the spring she taught two labs and had 48 students.

The professor for whom Jennifer worked, Dr. Ann Lumsden, said, “She is very motivated. Jennifer was selected from several hundred senior biology majors to teach in the non-major biology laboratories. Her duties were to develop lectures, make tests, keep grades, conference with students, set up and run laboratories, and deal with any other teaching-assistant duties.

“As a teacher, Jennifer is very creative and makes complicated material appear simple for non-major biology students. Her communication skills are excellent … Jennifer does everything she can to make sure her students learn and enjoy biology,” said Dr. Lumsden.

Perhaps Jennifer’s talent for teaching is a consequence of enjoying it so much. “I loved it. It was the first time I had ever been an instructor. It was a great experience, and a real challenge. I solidified my desire to become a university professor,” said Jennifer. She said she loved it when a student would ask questions.

Finishing her thesis project while teaching and taking classes made her last semester difficult, she said, but “the students’ curiosity kept me going.” She said she loved for students to ask questions.

Jennifer didn’t arrive at Florida State with plans to major in biology. “I came here to major in apparel design because I knew Florida State had a good program,” said Jennifer.

Despite the fact that Florida State has an outstanding Department of Retail Merchandising and Product Development within the College of Human Sciences, Jennifer’s parents were not thrilled by their daughter’s choice of majors. “They wanted me to study science or mathematics,” she said. Becoming a designer had been a longtime dream of Jennifer’s — one, initially, she was not ready to give up.

Sometime during her first semester at Florida State, though, Jennifer discovered that she was really enjoying her Honors chemistry and Honors biology classes. “I realized during my first semester that science was a better fit for me,” she said. “I changed over to biology, (and) I found that Florida State has a lot more to offer than I had realized.”

Jennifer’s new course of study eventually led to Dr. Hong-Guo Yu’s lab, where her undergraduate research garnered an Honors Thesis Award. In April she did a presentation at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on her thesis topic, The Role of Esp1 in Meiotic Cell Cycle Regulation in Budding Yeast.

“I researched the protein Esp1, which plays a major role in keeping chromosomes together during cell division. Any defect in this protein will cause the chromosomes to divide unevenly, which most likely would give rise to a genetic disease,” said Jennifer. “During my research, I observed the phenotype — the physical traits — of cells that did not have the Esp1 protein. By understanding what happens in yeast cells, we can further understand what would happen in humans because they share similar proteins.”

Jennifer was on either the Dean’s List or President’s List each semester at Florida State. She is a member of Beta Beta Beta, a national honorary and professional fraternity of undergraduates dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biology. She also is a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-educational service fraternity. “I was on the membership and service committees.” She also took part in Relay for Life and Light the Night.

Jennifer is taking a breather this summer before packing up her belongings and moving to Boston. “I am going to Tufts University for my Ph.D. in molecular biology,” she said. “My goal is to become a professor at an esteemed university and have a lab for research. I have always been interested in genetic diseases. I hope some day to discover something useful that can aid in fighting or curing genetic diseases.”

By Zilpha Underwood