Jan 22, 2021 | Science, Technology and Math , Academics , Featured , Student Success

Students’ Research Places 1st at Tennessee Academy of Science Meeting

Jenna, Tessa and Ava

Columbia State student, Ava Brittain, recently placed first in the oral presentation microbiology category during the 130thMeeting of theTennessee Academy of Science.

Brittain presented “Host range specificity and genomic analysis of Actinobacteria phages” at the virtual TAS event hosted by East Tennessee State University. Alumni Tessa Cote and Jenna St. Pierre worked on the project alongside Brittain during spring 2020 in an Honors Biology Research course taught by Dr. Elvira Eivazova, Columbia State associate professor of biology.

In the course, students get involved in research projects that bring valuable educational experiences in the form of evidence-based learning. Students gain experience through projects that focus on the discovery of new bacteriophages, which are viruses that kill bacteria, and the characterization of their genetic makeup. This is important because of the rise of multi-drug resistant microbes in our environment which makes the treatment of such microbial diseases difficult or impossible. The study of bacteriophages allows medical doctors to use them in the treatment of such microbial diseases and save lives in difficult cases.

The phage samples, discovered and characterized by the students, go through rigorous quality control by Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists. The final project shares authorship with the lead scientists of the HHMI SEA-PHAGES program. The highest level of quality is ensured when the results are published to the National Center of Biotechnology Information.

“My first place win helped me to see that attending a community college does not make me less competitive or less worthy of listening to,” Brittain said. “My research is no less adequate than the graduates from big universities.”

Brittain, a Pulaski native, is a sophomore working towards an Associate of Science degree in pre-physical therapy.

Ava smiles in a white shirt
Ava Brittain

Cote, a Mount Pleasant native, is currently a student at Middle Tennessee State University majoring in microbiology. Through the Columbia State Undergraduate Biology Research program, Cote won the prestigious Vanderbilt University Aspirnaut™ research internship in summer 2020. 

Tessa wears a blue shirt and works in a lab
Tessa Cote

Cote explained that “being a part of the research program at Columbia State changed my academic path entirely. Because of it, I have developed a passion for science and the drive to pursue a career in research. I am incredibly thankful to have been a part of this program, and I hope it will continue to give students like me the unique opportunity to experience research first-hand.”

St. Pierre, a Columbia native, is currently a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, majoring in aerospace engineering. While attending UTK, St. Pierre has worked at a research lab on bacteriophage interactions with E. coli bacteria.

Jenna wears a lab coat working in a lab
Jenna St. Pierre

“I am right now the only undergraduate working in the lab with two graduate students,” St. Pierre said. “I believe Columbia State prepared me well enough to work in a lab here at Knoxville. I appreciate the opportunities I was offered in undergraduate research.”

“It is incredibly rewarding to see students get excited about research and see them being successful in the process as well,” Eivazova said. “We are proud of our Columbia State students.”