Andrew Fausey (Class of 2019)

photo of Andrew Fausey

  • senior Biology major
  • minor in Neuroscience
  • from Minster, OH
  • conducts undergraduate research in regenerative cellular biology
  • plans to take a gap year doing research at NIH before going to medical school
"Get involved in research. Research really extends the reach of classwork, and it's opened my mind to a world that was previously unknown to me."

Why Miami?

"My initial visit to Miami came from a push by my mom, who said, 'I went to Toledo, but I really wish I had gone to Miami. You're the 5th of my 5 children, and no one's gone to Miami yet!' So my senior year I came to Make It Miami, where I met with some professors and advisors to talk about pre-dentistry. I also wanted to pursue collegiate running, so I talked to Miami's running coaches. All of these were defining factors for my decision to enroll.

"My first year was great. I made friends on the track team, many of whom are very good friends to this day. I did struggle a little bit with my rigorous biology and chemistry classes, on top of running workouts and time trials and such. Ultimately I decided to quit the running team, switch from pre-dentistry to pre-medical studies, and focus on my coursework and being more social."

Best Miami Experiences

Andrew Fausey works on his research in the lab.

"Two biology professors, Michael Robinson and Katia Del Rio-Tsonis, have been key to my academic experiences. Dr. Robinson, who is focused on genetics, was my advisor during orientation, and he really laid out the groundwork for what classes I would need to take. His guidance struck a chord with me, helping me decide to take more challenging classes instead of going for the easy ones to get an A. His genetics class was difficult, but it ended up being my favorite Miami class ever.

"Dr. Del Rio-Tsonis is my principal instructor in her biology lab, where I've worked since January of my sophomore year, plus two summers. We focus on the regeneration of retina and lens tissue in the eyes of embryonic chicks and newts. We isolate the regeneration mechanisms of the tissue, with the hope that we can eventually bring eyesight to people with eye diseases such as cataracts. Dr. Del Rio-Tsonis has been a great research mentor for me and has encouraged me to pursue research as a medical doctor, possibly an oncologist. I really appreciate her contribution to my life for that."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"I'm pursuing a BA in biology so that I can be exposed to different classes like philosophy, literature, and Asian-American culture, all of which open me to a wider range of views and societies. I know the liberal arts will impact me as a doctor so that I'm not just inside a scientific bubble but more aware of the world as a whole.

"I absolutely loved being able to take a variety of courses as a first-semester freshman at Miami. Being exposed to the arts and humanities in addition to the hard sciences as opposed to staying within a narrow, specific field has changed my worldview. Liberal arts courses help you to learn how to write and think differently and more creatively, and they've complemented my science classes as well. In the biological sense, I feel I'm developing a different side of my brain that wouldn't be accessed by memorization of biology pathways or biochemistry mechanisms and such.

"One of the courses that stuck with me most outside my major was Society and the Individual [PHL 103], taught by assistant teaching professor Christopher King. We discussed many classical figures like Plato and Aristotle, and Dr. King would come in every day and ask students questions to get them to describe and defend their responses philosophically. When you're a freshman and you meet this incredibly smart professor who's thought about philosophy for his entire life, it's kind of daunting to go back and forth with these discussions. But the course really resonated with me, teaching me to always ask questions and think about things differently.

"I became interested in adding neuroscience as a minor after my initial intro to biology courses. I liked learning about the nervous system, neurons, the brain, and so on — it involves all the complexities that go along with cognitive thinking, including some psychology and psychiatry. And because the neuroscience minor is split between the Departments of Psychology and Biology, I have psychology courses in addition to biology and chemistry. I like that it branches out more widely into various scientific fields than just straight biology."

Regenerative Retina Research in a Biology Lab

Andrew Fausey with some of his graduating labmates.

"Since my sophomore year I've been receiving course credit doing undergraduate research with Dr. Katia Del Rio-Tsonis, who specializes in developmental and regenerative research and biology. I became interested in her lab from a friend who had also worked there as an undergrad, and he would talk to me about their work trying to grow back tissues in the eye. As someone who had never been exposed to molecular biology on a higher level, I was blown away by his descriptions, so I emailed Dr. Del Rio-Tsonis, went through an interview process, and was eventually admitted to her lab in January 2017.

"The lab has a steep learning curve because there are a lot of different research methods involved. My labmates include other undergrads as well as grad students and postdocs, all of whom have been very open to showing me how to do things. After two years, I've come a very long way. Last year we finished up a project on epigenetic reprogramming of RPE [retinal pigment epithelium] tissue to retina tissue in embryonic chicks, and we've also been spearheading a new project that deals with antioxidants, reactive oxygen species and their mechanistic role in the reprogramming of RPE tissue to retina.

"The majority of our work involves removing a part of the eye called the retina from a developing chick. We then try to regenerate that tissue back by introducing different chemicals — growth factors and hormones — into the eye. For one method, we focus on eye tissue called the RPE, which turns into retina cells when you add the chemicals. In other words, they transform one cell type into another, giving rise to a new retina.

"A big question in regenerative biology we ask when regenerating tissue is whether it mimics developmental responses like an embryo normally would during its development. We try to determine whether the regenerative tissue mimics responses in the cells to validate their growth, or if we're merely tricking the cells with these chemicals so that certain genetic aspects will not be accessible after regeneration occurs. That's the deeper biological question of this research, and it's fascinating to see how our efforts in regeneration compare to the natural process.

"Before I start medical school, I plan to do a year of research on translational medicine at the National Institutes for Health (NIH). This NIH lab has collaborated with Dr. Del Rio-Tsonis's lab on a number of projects, so I'll be able to see how they've taken some of our basic research to translate it into how physicians pursue certain surgical procedures. At the NIH, researchers are working on implanting retinal cells into people with retinal diseases to improve their vision, so it'll be very cool for me to see how they're bridging the gap."

Advice to Students

"Get involved in research. When you take your prerequisite classes to prepare you for medical school, you're taking in a lot: biological mechanisms, physiological and chemical pathways that relate to medicine, and so on. This is important in order to prepare your knowledge of the practical applications of research before you learn to be a doctor at a different institution. Research really extends the reach of classwork, and it's opened my mind to a world that was previously unknown to me. I can see how the research process often starts at the undergraduate level like mine, goes into a translational phase, and finally ends up in actual medical practice.

"But research is only one of the ways to engage yourself in newfound knowledge. I always recommend that science majors focus on getting a BA degree to avoid being locked into a scientific mindset. Take other courses like philosophy, sociology, theater, and so on. Those courses will help you better understand the impact and applications of research and science in the long run.

"And regardless of what major you choose, make sure to major in something that you love!"

[February 2019]