Newest Beckman Scholars will research antibiotic resistance, Parkinson's

man standing next to woman outside Mackinac Hall
Gage Paul and Erin Fish will participate in the rigorous Beckman Scholars Program.
Image Credit: Valerie Wojociechowski

Two Grand Valley State University students selected for the rigorous Beckman Scholars Program will conduct research projects centered on advancing a treatment for Parkinson's disease and discovering novel ways to fight antibiotic resistance.

Sophomores Erin Fish and Gage Paul will each receive $21,500 to conduct 15-month research projects under the guidance of faculty mentors. The national undergraduate research program is funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation; Grand Valley was selected in 2017 to participate in the program for three years.

Fish is a native of Allen Park, majoring in biochemistry; her mentor is Brad Wallar, professor of chemistry. Paul is from Grand Rapids and is a double-major in cell and molecular biology, and biomedical sciences; his mentor is Sok Kean Khoo, associate professor of cell and molecular biology and co-director of the Beckman Scholars Program.

Fish started working in Wallar's lab after completing her first year at Grand Valley. After learning about the possibility of research projects from a professor, she took the initiative to contact faculty members about opportunities.

"I sent a bunch of emails to professors, asking if I could work in their lab and Dr. Wallar responded," Fish said. "It's amazing that a professor cared enough to talk to me about research and another person followed through. I'm not sure this would have happened at another university. Grand Valley is a very special place."

Wallar, several colleagues, and a team of students have collaborated for many years to study antibiotic resistance. For her project, Fish will characterize enzyme structures and look for antibacterial inhibitors. Wallar said Fish has grown her research expertise while improving professional development skills like time management, grant proposal writing, and presenting her work.

"She is involved in solving a problem that hasn’t been answered yet, and that requires critically thinking through a project from the big scale to the most focused experiment performed in the laboratory," he said.

For his research project, Paul will study transgenic fruit flies that express a human gene that causes protein clumps in patients with Parkinson's disease. Khoo has been researching Parkinson’s disease since 2009 and said studying protein aggregation in flies could lead to stopping or slowing Parkinson’s progression in humans.

Paul spent five months developing his research proposal before submitting his Beckman Scholars application. "The fact that we are responsible for our own projects is amazing. I'll be working with what I designed and be able to see the scientific process in action," he said. 

Both Fish and Paul said this program will help them decide whether to pursue research studies or medical school after graduating from Grand Valley.

The Beckman Scholars Program is administered by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. Selection criteria includes having a strong research interest and a GPA of 3.7 or higher, and majoring in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, cell and molecular biology or biomedical sciences. 

A team of 12 Grand Valley faculty members serve as mentors to Beckman Scholars.