Jessica Toothaker '17, a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, was recently named as a 2016 Goldwater Scholar. She grew up near Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research institution in Bar Harbor, Maine. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in cell biology, microbiology or immunology, with a goal of working as a researcher at a federal biomedical research facility.
She'll get a taste of research this summer as a participant in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Mount Desert Island Biological Lab in Bar Harbor. Although she loves the ocean and misses it when she's at school, Toothaker is full of Orange pride.
Tell us about where you’re from. What do you like about it? What do you miss while you’re at SU?
I am from Ellsworth, Maine, a small coastal town bordering Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. I love the close proximity to such a beautiful national park, and the tight-knit sense of community that comes with a small town. What I miss most while at Syracuse is the ocean and the ability to drive 20 minutes and be on the Atlantic coast.
Why did you choose SU? How well have your experiences matched your expectations and hopes?
Syracuse has the unique ability to feel like a big school with pride and athletics, but also has the advantages of a small campus in the classroom setting. My experience has matched and surpassed my expectations. There is nothing quite like being at the Dome for the Duke game surrounded by 35,000 other Orange fans one day, and then being able to step into a cutting-edge research lab to work on my individual Capstone the next.
What is your major and why did you choose it? How does it fit into your career goals?
I actually came to Syracuse completely undecided, but knew I had an interest in the sciences. I chose biology as my major, because in my first semester I really came to love the science classes I took. I also lived in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math learning community, and was really inspired by all the other scientists I was living with every day.
How did you end up with the research project in Maine? What will you be doing?
I am participating in the REU program at Mount Desert Island Biological Lab in Bar Harbor. I grew up near the lab and have known of its prestigious summer programs my entire life. I hope to gain invaluable research experience in a field and on a model organism I have not yet been exposed to. This program will expose me to more research areas within the biological sciences.
Why did you get involved with the Honors Program? What has been the highlight? What are you working on for your Capstone project?
I entered the Honors Program during my second semester of freshmen year because I wanted to take smaller classes in more specialized topics. The highlight is definitely the advisers and the faculty. They are always so welcoming and really interested in what all the students are working on. My Capstone project is in the field of female fertility; specifically, my research thesis involves the role of estrogen deficiency on cyst breakdown in the mouse model system.
What’s on your agenda for your senior year?
I plan to spend a great deal of time finishing up my Capstone and applying to graduate programs. I’m also looking forward to spending my last year with irreplaceable friends.
What other extracurricular activities do you participate in?
I am a member of the College of Arts and Sciences' Dean’s Team, and am a student employee in the Honors Office.
What’s the best way to spend free time as a student?
I always love going to an athletic event whether it be soccer, lacrosse, basketball, or football. When I want to get off campus, I like to eating on Marshall or downtown with friends. Then there’s always special events, like the New York State Fair, concerts at Westcott Theatre, or hiking trips to Green Lakes State Park.
Who at SU has helped you, supported you, inspired you? How?
First and foremost, my research mentor Melissa Pepling without whom I would never have gotten experience as a scientific researcher and ultimately would not have figured out my career goal.
Also, Kari Segraves and Dave Althoff for being the best instructors I have had here, and for looking out for me academically and personally. I hope one day to inspire students the way they have inspired me.
Lastly, Ali Cridge for dealing with all of my pre-enrollment stress frenzies over the past three years, and allowing me to mentor her freshmen forum for the past two years.