By Bethany Deuel

As a biomedical engineering student, Rachel McDonald never anticipated working for the Mississippi Alcohol Safety Program (MASEP) during college, but as an office assistant for the last two years she has gained many experiences.

Through her work filing, stocking office supplies, and relaying information to MASEP course participants, McDonald has enjoyed building strong relationships with her co-workers and assisting the participants.

“It’s customer service really. I’ve learned how to relay information to people when they don’t understand it the first couple times you tell them,” said McDonald, of Hernando, Mississippi. “I’ve learned to talk to people from all different backgrounds.”

Since graduating from Mississippi State University (MSU) in May, McDonald has been searching for a position as a medical liaison in Tupelo, Mississippi where her fiancée lives. While she said working for a research facility could be part of her future, she hopes to find a job where she can continue to connect with different people every day but in a hospital setting.

In addition to her office work at MASEP, she’s taken an active role in student research at MSU. For her senior year research project in the biomedical engineering program, McDonald and her group focused on the antibacterial properties of insects and the possible applications through mimicking those structures. One concern within hospitals today, McDonald said, is antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The project goal was to simulate the antibacterial properties of dragonfly wings onto grade two titanium.

“We did a lot of research the first semester of senior year and found out that a lot of insects have antibacterial properties. We looked into dragonfly wings and modeled their nano structure,” McDonald said.

Launched into the actual project creation in the spring semester, McDonald utilized the communication and relationship building skills she’d partly developed with MASEP when the team had to join forces with professionals from many different departments at MSU. The students worked with those from the veterinary school, the mechanical engineering department, and the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems to use their equipment in the various stages of the project. Group collaboration was also an essential part of the project and McDonald is proud of the way her group worked together.

“We tried to put all of our heads together because it was something new that none of us had ever done before,” McDonald said. “We had never really researched to do something. We’d had classes where we researched and hypothetically came up with a solution, but we had never had to research and actually do what we came up with.”

Throughout the yearlong process of the research project, McDonald also gained experience and insight about conducting research itself.

“There’s a lot of hiccups, there’s a lot of stuff that goes wrong but you just have to keep with it. That’s part of research. That’s one thing that I did learn, is that even if it doesn’t come out the way it’s supposed to, it’s still research,” McDonald said.

McDonald and the group had the unique opportunity to submit their completed project to the National Institute of Health biomedical engineering challenge where they are waiting for review. One of their advisors Dr. Na Yeon Lee, a research engineer in the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, plans to continue the students’ research on the antimicrobial properties of insect eggs and compile the findings into one journal report to be published with the students.

“It’s really exciting to know that when people search your name you’re going to have a publication under your name,” McDonald said. “As an undergrad, that’s what’s crazy to me.”

Insects and DUIs: Differing Experiences with a similar lesson
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