Graduate Spotlight: Jessica Albert is All In

Whether conducting research in the lab or singing in the choir, this 2023 graduate has made the most of her time at SU.

From a young age, Jessica Albert has been drawn to biology. “My mom’s a doctor, so I grew up around (the sciences). And then the seventh grade was the first time I took a ‘for real’ biology class,” she says. “I really liked it and have been pursuing it since.”

Pursuing might be a bit of an understatement. Albert, who is set to graduate this month with a degree in cell and molecular biology, has thoroughly immersed herself in the discipline. During her freshman year, when the world—and Seattle University—went into lockdown for COVID-19, Albert reached out to Associate Professor of Biology Kristin Hultgren, PhD, to ask about research opportunities. From her New Orleans-area home, Albert was able to work remotely for Dr. Hultgren’s lab, studying genetic diversity in Alpheus shrimp.

In time, Albert would have the opportunity to conduct in-person research in SU’s gleaming, new Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation—studying how bacteria defend against viruses (phage) with Associate Professor Biology Brett Kaiser, PhD, and the process by which chloroviruses infect freshwater green algae with Biology Department Chair and Professor Carolyn Stenbak, PhD.

The opportunity for undergraduates to do research alongside faculty—a hallmark of the SU educational experience—has been a highlight of Albert’s time at here. “You can ask questions pretty easily … and you have the independence to say, ‘Hey, I think this experiment might work.’ The professors let you design your own experiment and pick how you want to go about the problem, versus being given a list (of what to do).”

Of Dr. Stenbak, Albert says, “She’s been super helpful because I want to go into the immunology or virology space eventually. My end goal is a PhD in one of those fields and she’s had great insight for that as well as trying to find jobs.”

Albert herself has gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a teacher and mentor, serving as a teaching assistant for biology and virology classes. She does prep work for labs, grades assignments, helps students prepare for exams and serves as a resource in the lab. “Sometimes students, especially freshmen, are afraid to talk to their teachers about research,” she says. “I can be a student perspective and a gateway on that.”

“Whether it is in the lab or in the classroom, Jessica brings her unwavering drive to further her understanding and make an impact in her work,” says Dr. Stenbak. “Jessica is a great example of an SU student, combining her remarkable intellect with her deep curiosity and passion for biology to pursue questions that can make a difference.” 

Among other distinctions, Albert received the John Ju Excellence in Science Award and was named the 2022 Peter and Patricia Lee Fellow as well as the Outstanding Graduate in Biology. She’s also in the Honors Program’s Innovations Track.

And yet for this exceptional scholar, it’s not all studying all the time. With two musically gifted parents—her father is a music professor—Albert has long indulged her artistic side  and upon arriving at the university, sought out and joined the SU Choirs.

“Choir has been a good place to stretch my brain, away from science. The community is great and it’s a big stress reliever for me. I also appreciate that the choirs’ songs take an angle of social justice.”

As she pursues a research position after graduation, Albert reflects with gratitude on her Seattle University experience. “Between STEM, Honors and the Choirs, I got a really well-rounded education.”

This is part of a series spotlighting SU graduates from the Class of 2023 who will be celebrated at the undergraduate and graduate Commencement ceremonies, June 12 at Climate Pledge Arena.

Written by Mike Thee

Monday, June 5, 2023