Biology department earns a rare three-peat

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) chooses no more than 16 students a year nationally for its prestigious Undergraduate Scholarship Program, an extremely competitive opportunity that includes $20,000, a 10-week summer laboratory experience, and one year of full-time employment at NIH. Yet, for the third year in a row, a biology student from the University of North Georgia has won the honor.
UNG’s three NIH Scholarship recipients (left to right):
Megan Andres, 2016;
Joshua McCausland, 2014;
Obadi Obadi, 2015.

Megan Andres, a junior, will join UNG alumni Obadi Obadi ‘15 and Joshua McCausland ‘14 in representing UNG at the world’s largest research institution. Obadi is currently working at NIH and McCausland, who finished his NIH employment earlier this year, recently entered the Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology doctoral program in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on a full scholarship plus a $30,000 annual stipend.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” Andres said. “Getting this experience at NIH will take me to new levels, and will greatly increase my chances of getting into a top-notch graduate school program.”

The research program is for students pursuing careers in biomedical, behavioral, and social science health-related research, and enables them to train as paid summer research employees in an NIH research laboratory.

Andres hopes to work in pediatric oncology and has been involved in numerous undergraduate research opportunities and other projects while at UNG, including participating in water-quality testing for northeast Georgia. Twice a month, she and her team sample a dozen sites from various bridges, testing pH levels, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen levels. They then take samples back to the laboratory for further testing.

“We also send samples to the ecological isotopes lab at a larger university in order to run trials we cannot perform here,” Andres said. “This growing data set has been compiled over a span of 30 years, and is presented annually to the Chattahoochee Basin Group, which uses our information to help assess trends in water quality from year to year. This significant research ensures that these sites are maintaining water quality standards for the state of Georgia. Each location is a piece of one watershed that supplies drinking water to the metro Atlanta area. As human population rises, I am hoping to gain more knowledge on whether or not this can correlate to a decline in overall water quality.”

She is also involved in animal behavior research and is examining how adolescent exposure to substances similar to ADHD medication might play a role in the likelihood of substance addiction as an adult. She serves as secretary for Tri-Beta, a national biology honor society, and is the founding officer for UNG’s chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

“The time Megan spends at NIH will propel her forward, both personally and professionally,” said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant dean of student research and scholarship at UNG. “The fact that NIH continues to recognize the potential of UNG students is a testament to our mission to produce individuals who lead in every area of their lives as well as our dedication to providing undergraduate research opportunities.”

McCausland said his experience at NIH improved his skills in several areas besides ramping up his exposure to primary research.

“It really helped me develop a more fine-tuned sense of skepticism and understanding of scientific literature,” he said. “UNG proved critical for building a foundation in reading and understanding my field, but NIH took it one step further in familiarizing myself with not only understanding a single paper, but also putting it in context with others that exist. I now can approach a subject with broader clarity, and know when a finding is valid or questionable. This comprehension of the literature proved to be vital for my interviews with different graduate programs.”