Monday, Apr 20, 2015
Two Rider science majors will begin doctoral programs at Harvard and Penn in the fall
by Adam Grybowski
Five weeks ahead of graduation, two Rider senior science majors have been accepted into Ivy League doctoral programs. In the fall, Brandon Enalls ’15 will begin studying organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University and Danielle Minichino ’15 will begin studying cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s the first time in University history that two students from the same class are entering Ivy League doctoral programs directly from undergraduate programs.
“Brandon and Danielle are extremely bright, motivated and well-rounded scientists,” says Dr. Kelly Bidle, professor of biology and the research mentor of both students. “We have a lot of students who work in our labs, but they stand out for being truly invested in their research and the science.”
Enalls and Minichino cut similar paths on their way to earning their spots in two of the nation’s premiere universities. Both forged close relationships with professors across the campus and began working during their freshman year in Rider’s science research labs. Enalls and Minichino entered Rider as part of the University’s Freshman Science Honors program, which allowed them to conduct lab research during their first year — an unusual opportunity for first-year students. At the time, each had the ambition to become doctors, a goal which would transform as they progressed through their programs.
“I came to Rider and realized there are so many other things to do in the world of science,” Minichino says. “I fell in love with science research.”
Minichino, a behavioral neuroscience major who was accepted into several graduate schools, including Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, has been investigating the combined effects of a high-fat diet and a disrupted circadian cycle for her senior research project, for which she received an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology. At Penn, she will focus her research efforts on studying the cellular aspects of human metabolism while aspiring for an academic career.
At Harvard, Enalls plans to focus his microscope on microbes that live at the bottom of the ocean to help him understand how harsh environments can sustain life. That research may serve as a model for how life could exist on other planets in similar conditions. While he has a clear focus on his research goals, his career path remains open. “I could see myself being a professor and continuing my research, but if I get an opportunity to work at NASA, I most likely would take it,” says Enalls, a biochemistry major. "As technology advances, new discoveries are continuously being made and I want to be at the forefront of those developments."
In addition to their research endeavors, Enalls and Minichino were also participants in the McNair Scholars program. As McNair Scholars, Enalls and Minichino gave up their nights last summer to receive preparation for applying to graduate school, including studying for the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE), learning professional etiquette and receiving assistance from faculty and staff on the application process. The goal of the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program is to increase the number of doctoral applicants and terminal degrees attained by first-generation students and underrepresented groups in graduate school. It also includes financial assistance and faculty-led research.
Enalls and Minichino trace their love of science to early experiences that triggered a sense of wonder in their imaginations. “I remember the day in fifth grade when I learned about cells and that was it,” Minichino says. “It was a moment of complete awe.”
As a kid, Enalls loved watching science shows on TV, especially Bill Nye the Science Guy. The interest became a true passion in high school, when he began to learn about metabolic processes like cell respiration and photosynthesis. "I wanted to understand how life works,” he says. "For cells to be as complex as they are, and for there to be millions of them in our bodies that work closely with each other, I found it amazing."
Quiet and reserved, Enalls chose Rider in part because he knew he might get lost in the large lecture halls of bigger universities. In truth, small classes draw students out because they have no place to hide. “You can’t get away with sitting in the back of a huge lecture hall when the classes are this size,” says Minichino, who was nominated by faculty this year as the "behavioral neuroscience senior of the year."
The intimate classroom interaction allows for deeper learning than simply being drilled with facts, Bidle says. “You develop more personal connections with students, have more conversations with them and become more of a mentor."
Over four years at Rider, students can take multiple classes with the same professors, building personal connections to them. "When I see a student who wants to take another course with me," Bidle says, "I know I’ve done something for them and I’ll have the chance to get to know them more and watch them mature. That’s the benefit of smaller classes.”
Bidle, whose research focuses on the adaptive strategies of organisms that thrive in extreme conditions, became Minichino’s mentor during her freshman year and Enalls’ mentor during his junior year. Both of these students have presented work from the Bidle lab at a number of national meetings, including the 2014 American Society of Microbiology General Meeting in Boston and the 2014 McNair SAEOPP conference in Georgia. It is also worth nothing that Enalls was a 2014 URSA recipient.
The accomplishments are a huge source of pride for Bidle. “These are students you’ve trained, taught and conveyed your passion to,” she says, “and when you see results like this, it’s one of the most gratifying aspects of my work.”