Miami students named Goldwater Scholar, Honorable Mention

By Susan Meikle, university news and communications, meiklesb@MiamiOH.edu.

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Maeva Metz, junior microbiology major, has been named a 2015 Goldwater Scholar. She is mentored by Luis Actis, chair and professor of microbiology (photos by Scott Kissell).

Maeva Metz, a junior microbiology major and molecular biology minor from Brookfield, Conn., has received a Goldwater Scholarship.  She is one of 260 students nationwide to receive the scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, natural science and engineering.

Blake Rasor, a sophomore biology and microbiology double major from Dayton, received a Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention.

The Goldwater Scholarship

The Goldwater Foundation Scholarship Program encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. 

Nationwide, faculty nominated 1,206 students for the one- and two-year scholarships, worth up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. 

Maeva Metz - Goldwater Scholar

Metz has been conducting research with faculty mentor Luis Actis, chair and professor of microbiology, for the past three years. Her current project involves characterizing a sensor protein found in the inner membrane of the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii. The protein is involved in biofilm formation – an important virulence factor that contributes to the bacterium’s antibiotic resistance.

Acinetobacter baumannii can persist in medical environments and cause serious infections in humans. "It has recently emerged as a more serious threat to human health because of its ability to cause devastating infections in wounded military personnel that are very difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance," Actis said. 

Metz wants the things she does "to have meaning, a purpose. It is satisfying to know that what I do in the lab might have an impact," she said, about working with Actis. “Soldiers risk their lives for us every day. The last thing we want to see is for them to lose their lives to an infection that could be treatable if we had new, alternative therapeutics.”

"Maeva is an outstanding undergraduate student who has an exceptional potential in the sciences, particularly in the medical field," Actis said.

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Maeva Metz

Her interests in the medical aspects of research led her to Actis' lab, where she "started during the second week of classes freshman year," Metz said.

When applying to colleges, she knew she wanted a school that had approachable, knowledgeable faculty and encouraged undergraduate research. "Miami had a strong voice for undergraduate research and was ranked top for undergraduate teaching. Faculty are very open about having undergrads work with them no matter what their year is," Metz said. 

She received the Allan A. Ichida Undergraduate Research Award from the Ohio Branch of the American Society for Microbiology in spring 2013 for her poster "Phosphatidylcholine-specific phospholipase C activity is responsible for the hemolytic activity of A. baumannii."

Metz has worked on numerous projects in Actis' lab; has been a supplemental instructor; and has gone through Scanning and Transmission Electron Microscopy training. She has also been a recurring intern at an international pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, working in the immunology and inflammation department.

She has also been the recipient of the Orton K. Stark Award in microbiology for three years.  

Her current research project — which will continue next year — will put every single skill she has learned in the lab to the test, Metz said. 

She will hone her research skills this summer at the Harvard Medical School Summer Undergraduate Research Program in immunology. 

"Clearly, Maeva stands out as one of the best among the 53 undergraduates I have supervised at Miami," Actis said.

Metz is a member of the Dean's Student Advisory Council for Arts and Science and is a College of Arts and Science Ambassador. She plans to pursue a doctorate in immunology after graduation. 

Blake Rasor - Honorable Mention

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Blake Rasor, sophomore biology and microbiology double major, has been named a 2015 Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention. He is mentored by Michael Robinson, professor of biology.

Like Metz, Rasor jumped right into undergraduate research as soon as he started at Miami. He works with Michael Robinson, professor of biology, on research involving retina development in mouse embryonic stem cells.

"Blake will be the first undergraduate at Miami to use CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology to manipulate mouse embryonic stem cells," Robinson said.

CRISPR — a breakthrough genome-editing technology — is a kind of biological scissors that can snip strands of DNA at a particular point, allowing for new genes to be inserted before pasting the strands back together. "It is the next 'big thing' in molecular biology," Robinson said.

Rasor's project involves designing an in vitro assay for the transdifferentiation of retinal pigment epithelium cells in the embryonic mouse retina.

"Blake’s fascination with pushing the limits of life fuels his passion both in the laboratory and in his course work," Robinson said.  "Ultimately Blake wants to use his biological training to synthesize new life forms to tackle some of society’s most challenging problems."

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Michael Robinson, left, and Blake Rasor.

Rasor met Robinson during his summer orientation advising session at Miami. They talked about undergraduate research and Robinson suggested that Rasor stop by his lab once classes started. "Once he started that first week, I wouldn't let him leave," Robinson joked.  "It is a privilege to mentor Blake Rasor in my laboratory, and I am looking forward to the fruits of his creativity and industry here at Miami."

This summer, Rasor has the opportunity to be immersed in bioengineering research at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was accepted into the UC Berkeley Amgen Scholars Program.

At Miami, he is a resident assistant, a member of the viola studio in the music department and secretary of the Red Dragons martial arts club. He plans to pursue a doctorate in bioengineering after graduation. 

Metz is one of four students at an Ohio public university to receive a Goldwater Scholarship.

Rasor is one of four students at an Ohio public university to receive an honorable mention.