From student to lab scientist

How donors have propelled Emily's experience at Seminole State

Four Young Women in White Lab Coats
Emily at Pebble Labs in New Mexico (Emily pictured fourth from left) 

Donors have been an integral part of Emily's educational journey every step of the way at Seminole State. As an incoming freshman, Emily participated in the Wayne M. Densch Scholarship program for first generation students and received additional foundation scholarships to assist with tuition and books. But Emily's  deepest "aha moment" occurred when she was invited to participate in the Biology Department's "Women in Science" field trip to New Mexico. Led by Dr. Debbie Barr and Dr. Debra Socci and funded through donor support, the group toured the New Mexico Consortium and Pebble Labs, where Emily discovered and was accepted into a summer internship at Pebble Labs. Learn more about this amazing trip here.  If you are interested in making a donation to support a future "Women in Science" trip, please contact the Foundation at 407-708-4567.

"There are some people you meet that you can peg very quickly as having what it takes to be successful.  Emily Gearhart is one of those people.  Emily is not only a high-achiever focused on her academic goals, she is an explorer open to opportunity and self-discovery.  Whether it’s hiking through the Amazon jungle to experience its unique flora and fauna, touring Santa Fe Community College’s extensive sustainability initiatives, or spending her summer at the New Mexico Consortium Biolabs trying research on for size, she is absolutely all in.  Yes, she’s smart.  Yes, she’s goal oriented. But her willingness to say “Yes!” to opportunity and new experiences is the crowning jewel in her character that will undoubtedly take her far."

Dr. Debra Barr, Department of Biological Sciences, Seminole State College

"Emily has been absolutely amazing and contributed significantly to our research.  She is very bright, asks a lot of good questions, is very skilled technically at the bench, and is a complete delight to work with and be around.  I couldn't be more happy with her performance. She is welcome back anytime!"

Dr. Laura Dickson, LittleFly Division, Pebble Labs

Read more about Emily in her own words:

The Wayne M. Densch Scholarship really helped me through my academic journey, not only because of the monetary support throughout my first two years in college, but because of the other services this scholarship provided me. I was assigned two AMAZING advisors (Tanya Fritz and Heather Holmes) who opened their office doors to me, explained things to me that I didn’t really understand (financial aid), especially being the first in my family to go to college. This scholarship also allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and become a First-Generation Peer Mentor for two years in a row. I’ve developed leadership skills and improved upon my communication and public speaking skills that not only helped me in future semesters but that I know will help me in years to come. This scholarship program shaped me into the woman that I am today because it provided me with a foundation, a treasure chest of knowledge, skills, and experiences, that I can not only pass on to my fellow students just entering college, but that I could carry with me throughout my future. If it wasn’t for the Wayne M. Densch Scholarship I don’t know what my first semester of college would have been like.  

Investing in students and their education is so important, because it allows us to explore new opportunities, to discover ourselves, our true passions, and what kind of impact we want to leave on the world. Last April I took part on a “Women in Science” trip that opened doors for me in ways that I could not imagine, and it was due to the support of the Atkins Foundation, Women and Science Grant, and Emerge NSF Grant who invested in not only me but the other incredible women who attended this trip. Because of this trip I landed an internship at the very lab that we toured. I am interning with the Little Fly Division at Pebble Labs in Los Alamos New Mexico, which uses technology to harness natural bacteria found in insects to block the transmission of viruses by mosquitos to people. A year ago, I would have never imagined I would be given this opportunity and I owe it all to not only the amazing professors (Dr. Socci and Dr. Barr) but to the foundations and individuals who supported this trip and allowed me to attend. A very important man in my life once said that investing in students is like the rocket effect, the amount of energy or support you give a rocket in its moments of take-off determine how far it will reach. The same goes for students in college, the more support and opportunities you give them, the farther they will go in life and the more they will reach for the stars stopping at nothing to reach their destination.  

I have always had a passion for science and as I’ve progressed in my science courses at SSC I am learning that I love every single one of them because they piece together the links that further explain the world we live in, from Biology, Chemistry, to Physics. I have also become a science tutor on campus, a job that I value because not only does it serve as a tool to help sharpen my skills in a particular subject, but I also get to share my passion with other students and show them how the science they are learning can relate to their everyday world outside of the classroom. For my future, I am working towards a career heavy in science where I can combine my passions for our planet and the chemical, biological, etc. processes that take place on it. I crave for deeper understanding and knowledge and I never want to stop learning.  

What does life after Seminole State look like? That is a good question, and one that I too am trying to figure out. After Seminole State, I plan on attending a four-year university, a place that I can grow, learn, and experience even more. As of right now I have not decided where my next place will be, I’ve looked at colleges both in and out of state, from UCF, UF, and even Emory University in Atlanta Georgia. I have recently discovered that I really enjoy research and maybe in the future I will find myself working in a lab, discovering the newest things in Science. I look at myself as a particle drifting through the wind, landing at new opportunities that fill me with more experience and knowledge and more importantly questions that I search to get answered about our world. I know for a fact that I will be a lifelong learner. Learning new techniques, learning from others around the world and their culture, and learning more about myself as I move through this journey of life. When I first began college, I thought I had to have it all figured out, but the truth is, I am young and there is still so much to explore and learn. I have come to peace with the fact that if I keep following my passions and taking on every opportunity that knocks on my door, I will find myself in a career that I am truly passionate about. One that I look forward to waking up for every day, and more importantly, one that pushes and challenges me because every day is a new opportunity to learn and I hope that tomorrow I know more than I did the day before.  

Donors can help students like me in the future by continuing to support SSC because without that support we wouldn’t get to take part in some of the amazing experiences and opportunities that I have been presented with. Not only do the donors help greatly by supporting students going on educational trips with the college, but they also greatly help with tuition and books, something I know MANY students at SSC rely on. I have been so fortunate throughout my years here at Seminole State College because I haven’t had to pay out of pocket for my classes or books because of the support of the many donors who believe in students and our education. I know I don’t speak alone when I say that I greatly appreciate everything that the donors have done because my college experience wouldn’t have been the same without their support. When students go to college for higher education the last things on their mind should be how they are going to pay for their classes and necessary materials. They should be thinking about how all this knowledge their gaining is getting them one step closer to their dreams and what opportunities lie ahead of them. The contributions of the donor’s help take that worry out of our minds.

A typical day for me varies, they can be extremely busy during the school semester or they can be more relaxed during my time off. A typical day during the school semester goes as follows. I usually begin my day early at the gym, I love to work out at the start of the day because its starts me out on the right foot. I then head to school whether that my home campus (Sanford/Lake Mary) or the Oviedo Campus. I pack my days with classes, so I usually end up spending all day in and out of lectures and labs, but I enjoy it because I love to learn! In between classes I will sit down in a quiet place and study, work on homework, and sometimes when I am tired, I might end up falling asleep for a quick nap (the library seats along the windows happen to be the best for that because they’re extremely comfortable), but my naps only happen once in a blue moon. Later in the days I usually head over to work at the Academic Success Center on the SLM campus. I love my job not only because I get to talk about science and teach others but because the individuals that I work with are amazing! After my long days on campus I cannot wait to get home, but I first must battle crazy I-4 traffic (everyone’s favorite). Once I am home I like to unwind a bit by either catching up on some of the books I am currently reading, watching a bit of Netflix or YouTube or simply laying down. I love to cook, so I make all my meals, and because I still live at home I end of making my parents dinner too! I love to cook channa and aloo which is an Indian inspired dish with chickpeas (channa) and potatoes (aloo) in a curry sauce with some rice and spicy pepper sauce. On Fridays when I don’t have to go straight to studying after dinner my parents and I will sit down at the table and play card games. Later in the night I prepare for the next day and head to bed.  

My day starts at 6am, waking up for the gym, which I ride my bike to. After the gym, I head back to my home for the time being, an apartment in town that I am sharing with a technician at the lab. The lab is about a 10-minute drive, I either take the ride with the Atomic City bus, a free bus service or I ride with my roommate Helin. The work day starts by meeting with Dr. Laura Dickson, the scientist that I am interning with and Julia Vulcan her extremely smart technician, a woman that I have learned a lot from. Laura runs through the most important things to get complete that day and if it is new to me she sits down with me to talk about the concepts behind the procedures. I work in the lab from 9:00am to about 5:00pm every day, where I run PCR’s which allows me to copy DNA in large quantities, I grow cultures of bacteria, perform transformations, take care of mosquitoes in the insectary and run experiments. The days are filled with learning and laughter and encouragement from everyone around me. After a long day in the lab I head back to the apartment where I make dinner with my roommate and if we aren’t too tired we stay up, watch movies and go on spontaneous night hikes around town. Friday’s are special days because a concert is held at Ashley pond in the middle of town, so we often attend those with others from the lab.  


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