When Wyatt Cole ’19 traveled to the Society of Toxicology’s annual meeting in Baltimore this month, he became the seventh Kenyon student in 12 years to be honored with the Pfizer Society of Toxicology Undergraduate Student Travel Award. Making this news even sweeter: Cole was joined by Professor of Biology Wade Powell, who also was honored with an award — the Daniel and Patricia Acosta Undergraduate Educator Award, for his mentorship of undergraduate students, including Cole and his six Pfizer award predecessors at Kenyon.
Cole, a biochemistry major from Portland, Oregon, won the award with his research titled “Distinct Roles for Xenopus laevis AHR Paralogs in Cell Cycle Regulation.” He completed most of his research on this project with Powell over the summer, but the pair’s collaboration dates back to Cole’s sophomore year at Kenyon, when he took Powell’s introduction to experimental biology course. In the spring semester of the year-long course, students complete independent research projects; for Cole, this project laid the groundwork for his recent research on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, a protein that helps animals respond to the toxic effects of pollution.
Powell encouraged Cole to continue his research into AHR receptors and how they affect the rate of cell division in frogs through Kenyon’s Summer Science Scholars program. Through the competitive program, students gain valuable independent research experience by partnering with faculty members to conceive of and execute a research project. To support their work, the scholars receive on-campus housing and a stipend.
“He’s been a great mentor for many, many people,” Cole said of Powell. “He has this great capacity to take young students and really push them to their full potential.”
Powell noted that the award honoring his mentorship really recognizes the work of his students who, at Kenyon, are hardworking and taught to do extensive research early on.
“We have a lot of highly capable students who can actually do the work. Our curriculum is also set up to emphasize learning how to do science from the very earliest stages,” Powell noted. While many schools require students to complete research projects as part of their senior thesis, Kenyon encourages this research experience starting in introductory-level courses. “It sets our students up to succeed at higher levels and rapidly,” Powell said.
Multiple programs at Kenyon support and facilitate these intensive research experiences. In addition to the Summer Science Scholars, STEM students can engage in the Clare Booth Luce Undergraduate Research Scholars program, the Rise Science Fellowship and the Cascade Scholars program, geared toward first- and second-year students. Partnerships with nearby Ohio State University provide Kenyon students with additional research opportunities; through one such initiative, the Pelotonia Scholars program, Cole studied cell-cycle and cancer research the summer before his junior year.
“There’s a really collaborative feel to the [natural] science [division],” Cole said. “Kenyon really does try to make it possible for students to do science. They make it accessible to everybody who wants to do it and that’s really great.”
Powell also referenced Kenyon’s collaborative campus culture and highlighted the administration’s support for both professors and students. “When faculty are able to succeed at science they’re able to make students succeed as well,” he said.
The Society of Toxicology is an organization of scientists that aims to create a healthier world by advancing science and increasing the impact of toxicology. At the society’s annual meeting, Cole presented his research to other students, professors and scientists.
—Betül Aydin ’21