People of SU / Science / Technology and Health

A Winning Perspective

Written by Brett Prim

January 28, 2022

M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust logo. Contains a TM mark.

Image credit: Logo: M.J. Murdock

Post-baccalaureate Biology student Kayla Meredith, ’22, was awarded the 2021 Murdock Poster Prize in the Developmental Biology-Physiology category at the 30th Annual Murdock College Science Research (MCSR) Conference.  

The conference gathered more than 300 college students and faculty, both in person and virtually, to celebrate outstanding research at institutions of higher learning across the Pacific Northwest. Students presented their own research through lectures and poster displays.

As she nears completion of her post-baccalaureate certificate this spring, Meredith shares how personal experiences continue to influence her scientific research and what social justice and collaboration with Seattle University faculty mean to her.

Describe your project and research—specifically, why you chose this topic, why it’s important and what are some of its applications?

Meredith: The name of the poster is, “Run for your Life! A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Exercise Intensity on Cardiovascular Outcomes in A Rat Model of Hypertension.” This project was inspired by my time volunteering at a free clinic, where I often saw patients with high blood pressure being advised to exercise. I was curious which would more effectively reduce someone’s blood pressure: light jogging or hard running?

[Associate Professor of Biology] Stephen Luckey, PhD, and I explored studies done on spontaneously hypertensive rats—reliable models for essential hypertension in humans.

This topic is personally meaningful to me. I grew up without health insurance and when my dad began having heart attacks, my family had to choose between affording ambulance rides and being able to buy milk for my little brothers. Things got so bad that the bank foreclosed on our house. Despite all of this, my dad’s doctors took the time not only to save his life on the operating table, but also to counsel him about lifestyle changes, like exercise.

My dad ended up surviving to age 59. He became a “Pop-Pop” and I had more years with him than I ever dreamed. It is my hope that knowing more about exercise’s effects on health can give other families the gift of time.

Why did you choose Seattle University’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Professional Health Studies (PBPHS) Certificate program?

Meredith: First, the university treats post-bac students as adults. We aren’t forced to follow a strict course plan.

Second, SU has a social justice mission, meaning I get to learn science alongside learning how to be a better person. When I felt helpless watching the news after the murders of George Floyd, Manuel Ellis and so many others, I was able to get involved with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work here at SU. As my kids would say, quoting Daniel Tiger, “Everyone is big enough to do something.”

Why did you decide to compete at the conference? What was your experience working with Dr. Luckey?

Meredith: Dr. Luckey brought the opportunity to my attention. Usually, conference attendees are traditional undergraduates, not post-bacs, but he advocated for me to have a place among them.

I almost talked myself out of asking for this opportunity because of “imposter syndrome.” I do not have a typical undergrad biology student background: I’m in my 30s, mixed-race and from a blue-collar neighborhood in New Jersey. I was also pregnant with my third child and at high risk for COVID complications. This meant that I would need to work remotely.

Instead of making me feel inadequate for having a family, Dr. Luckey modeled a healthy work-life balance between teaching, research and fatherhood. He also gave me the freedom and autonomy to explore the aspects of our research that interested me. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity he provided.

What advice would you give to classmates or an incoming SU student about getting involved with research?

Meredith: If you need help, all you have to do is ask! The faculty here know each other well. Talking to any one of them could get your foot in the door.

I would also advise to keep an open mind, because you can learn from a professor in any field. For example, Dr. Katie Frato from the Chemistry department taught me how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and Dr. Joe Langenhan introduced me to the database I ended up choosing for my meta-analysis. Dr. Glenn Yasuda wove inspiring history lessons into his genetics lectures, so that when I went through academic struggles (ahem, organic chemistry!), I remembered that the saddest ending I could give my story would be to quit science. Because of the professors here, that’s something I’ll never do.