Summer research projects play a key role in the education of Wofford College biology majors, and students use a variety of approaches to arrange projects that stretch across disciplines and state lines.

Some search the internet and find applications. Some consult with professors, who often have knowledge of unusual projects and opportunities. Others move into summer positions that have yielded productive research for previous Wofford students.

Sophomore biology major Bella Riddle took a unique approach.

She got hurt.

This wasn’t planned, of course. While playing in a “powderpuff” football game during her senior year at Brookland-Cayce High School near Columbia, S.C., Riddle suffered a torn ACL.

Dr. Mickey Plymale of Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group in Columbia repaired the damage, and Riddle told him of her interest in orthopedic surgery and her plans to attend Wofford on a pre-med track. She said Plymale encouraged her to apply for an internship with him at Palmetto Health. The result was a summer-long shadowing experience for Riddle prior to the start of her sophomore year.

Riddle worked with the office staff, visited patients with Plymale and watched him work in several operating room sessions. It was very valuable experience for a student who hopes to become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

“I was a little nervous about the surgeries,” Riddle says. “I kind of wondered, ‘What if I can’t do it?’ But once I was in the operating room, I loved it. It’s so interesting. I learned so much and got to experience everything about the process.”

Riddle says the summer enabled her to step away from the rigors of school and concentrate fully on one topic.

“You can get caught up in school and everything that’s involved with that,” she says. “The internship gave me the chance to work with one group on one thing and experience everything about that particular field. It helped me realize that it’s what I want to do, and it inspired me to be ready to come back to school.”

Other biology students spent the summer studying loggerhead turtles, the running and fighting abilities of mice, the impact of urbanization on creek water quality and the differences in Mexican Cave Fish brains, among other projects.

Each September the Biology Department hosts a Rapid Research Roundup, giving biology majors a chance to showcase the career-related activities they pursued over the summer. Riddle and a dozen other students described their projects and explained how they secured their summer work so that other students in attendance could gain insight into ways to pursue their own summer projects.

“Working in settings related to their career interests for one or more summers as undergraduates gives each of these students the experience needed when applying for study beyond graduation,” says Dr. Charles F. Smith, Wofford biology professor. “Additionally, students explore possible career paths and often discover interests and passions that they never knew that they had before their summer experiences.
“One of the goals of the Biology Department is to equip students with the knowledge and experiences to follow and excel in their working life after college, as well as broaden their world views, and summer research and internship opportunities are instrumental in helping students reach their career goals.”

By Mike Hembree