In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2020 from a wide array of disciplines.
Emma Ebright majored in Biology with a concentration in Foundations for Medical Sciences and minored in Chemistry and Neuroscience. She was named the Biology Department’s Outstanding Student of the Year for 2020.
What led you to major in Biology?
I was drawn to biology as a major because I have a high level of interest in understanding the creation, functionality, and constituents of the world around me. My passion for discovery and research, along with a particular fascination in the mechanisms that function within the human body has driven my curiosity towards the field of medicine.
Pursuing a major in biology allowed me to focus on my interest in human biology and biochemistry, as well as gain a deep understanding of the interactions within and between living organisms. Entering Elon, I knew biology was the right direction for me because of my interests. However, the courses I took as a freshman and the strong relationships developed with my professors and peers reinforced that Biology was the right choice for me.
What was your research topic and how did you choose that subject? How did that enrich your education?
The Hamel Lab primarily focuses on investigating the ecology and evolution of insect behavior. As a part of the Hamel Lab, I have co-investigated the behavior of a locally occurring species of katydid, an insect closely related to grasshoppers and crickets, over the past two years. Nicole Marici, my research partner, and I observed the behavior of these insects in staged mating encounters within a semi-natural environment. After analyzing observed behavior, we constructed diagrams that represent the frequencies of behavioral transitions for these insects in mating encounters. We also determined the amount of time this insect species dedicates to engaging in specific behaviors. Through this investigation, we have set the stage for future studies about mate choice, mate competition, and predation risk for this insect species.
I chose to pursue research in behavioral ecology and evolution to give myself an opportunity to explore this field of biology in greater detail. This research focus was particularly intriguing to me because it gave me the ability to immerse myself in a field of biology that is not deeply ingrained in my major concentration or future aspirations. I also had an established relationship with Assistant Professor of Biology Jen Hamel, who encouraged me to join the Hamel Lab.
Nicole and I were scheduled to give an oral presentation of our research at the North Carolina Academy of Science Annual Meeting, but we were unfortunately unable to due to the current circumstances. We were grateful and excited to have the opportunity to present our research to the Department of Biology and distinguished leaders of Elon at the Biology Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, which was held virtually. The opportunity we were granted to present our research truly showed us the commitment of the Department of Biology to research, disseminating knowledge, and the accomplishments of its students. For that, we are so grateful to be a part of it.
What is your proudest accomplishment while at Elon?
My proudest accomplishment was having the ability and opportunity to make an impact on the learning, development, and interest in science of other students through a number of roles I held on campus. Being a human physiology laboratory teaching assistant, lead biology tutor and supervisor, and president of Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society allowed me to encourage students to love learning. I motivated them to push their academic abilities, promoted interest in discovery and the biological sciences, and facilitated a greater understanding of challenging course material for peers.
It is an accomplishment for me to know that I have made a positive impact on the learning of others and served as a resource and mentor for students following a similar path to me.
How has your relationship with your mentor furthered your educational goals or helped you grow?
My research mentor is Dr. Jen Hamel, Assistant Professor of Biology. I state “is” because her mentorship will undoubtedly continue following my graduation. Dr. Hamel’s guidance and support throughout my time as a researcher and student has been formative in my development as a scientist and a person. Her mentorship has strengthened my ability to think critically, ask questions, overcome challenges, and collaborate with others. She has facilitated my growth through her encouragement of self-driven investigations and experimental design. I am grateful to be a member of the Hamel Lab, both now and after graduation.
Additionally, all of the professors in the Department of Biology have made an impact on my education and personal growth, which has significantly guided me into great success. I find it incredible that each professor in this department will enthusiastically and unquestionably form a relationship with a student and serve as a mentor or resource. The professors in the Department of Biology who have been most influential in my experience are Dr. Robert Vick, Dr. Eric Bauer, Dr. Antonio Izzo, Dr. Jennifer Uno, and Dr. Yuko Miyamoto.
These professors have provided a level of guidance, support, and encouragement unlike any other in my career and have been integral to my academic and personal growth. They have provided me opportunities for discovery, to facilitate the learning of others, and to challenge my own leadership and academic abilities. I am thankful to have formed such meaningful and life-long relationships with these professors throughout my time in the Department of Biology.
What are your future plans?
In my future, I plan on pursuing a career as a physician. Following graduation, I will be engaging in medical research in order to gain more proficiency in the field of medicine and insight into the research currently being investigated, prior to matriculating into medical school. While engaging in research, I will continue to serve my local community through pursuing medical volunteering experiences alongside.
What advice would you give future Elon students, or what do you wish you had known as a first-year student?
Entering college can be an intimidating and challenging feat to overcome. Elon is a community that provides a level of support and comfort unlike anywhere else. Elon becomes your second home and encourages you to grow as a person and student.
Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to you even if they seem challenging, intimidating, or out of your comfort zone. Whether it is getting coffee with a student you just met or the opportunity to serve as a leader in a department or an organization, take the chance because it will be rewarding and will shape you in some way. You never know what could have been until you take the chance or a leap into the unknown. Elon will be there to catch you if you fall even the smallest bit.
What’s your favorite Elon tradition?
My favorite tradition would have to be receiving an acorn at convocation and an oak sapling upon graduation. This tradition signifies the development we undergo throughout our time at Elon and the life-long growth that results from being shaped by our Elon experiences. It is a tradition I have kept close to my heart while a student at Elon and one I am excited to take throughout my life following graduation.