COMPASS students present research during inaugural national S-Stem conference

From left to right: Dr. Maria Santisteban, Alexis Strickland, Kyra Locklear, and Tiffani Roberts
From left to right: Dr. Maria Santisteban, Alexis Strickland, Kyra Locklear, and Tiffani Roberts

A small contingent of UNCP Biology scholars joined throngs of people from across the nation for the inaugural annual S-STEM Scholars Meeting in Washington, DC. The three-day conference was focused on professional development, networking, and science communication. Undergraduate students Alexis Strickland, Kyra Locklear, and Tiffani Roberts, and UNCP COMPASS Director Dr. Maria Santisteban were there for the duration (September 14-16).

Alexis and Kyra presented research posters, and this was their first time to present their work out of state and for a conference of this magnitude. Both students presented posters last spring during the annual PURC (Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity) symposium on the UNCP campus. Alexis’ poster was entitled “CRISPR Cas/9 Cis-Editing in Arabidopsis thaliana,” and her research mentor in the Biology Department was Dr. Timothy Anderson. Kyra’s poster was entitled “Plants in Space: Developing Assays to Test Effects of Microgravity on Arabidopsis thaliana,” and her research mentor was Visiting Biology Lecturer (and UNCCH SPIRE Postdoctoral Scholar) Dr. Seth O’Conner.

When asked to comment on conference, Alexis said, “The 2023 Annual S-Stem Scholars Meeting was my second large conference I have had the opportunity to attend. This was my very first national conference that I was able to present my research at, and I had a wonderful time presenting and meeting new people. The speakers were very influential, and the workshops I got to attend were very informative and interesting. Overall, I had a wonderful time and would recommend the experience to others to broaden their professional horizons.” She also added, “This was my very first time in Washington, DC. I got to ride a metro for the first time, as well as see many national buildings and monuments. Compared to my summer internship in Baltimore, I love DC and its environment compared to Baltimore and would love to visit it again.”

The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) sponsored the Washington, DC, conference and, along with the National Science Foundation, supports many S-STEM (or “Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”) activities that are aimed at community building, exchanging ideas and synthesizing knowledge, while boosting the STEM workforce. In addition to poster sessions, conference highlights included workshops, career fairs, and plenary speakers and panelists with ties to AAAS, federal agencies, academia, and technology.

All three students are scholars in the UNCP COMPASS Program. Established by the National Science Foundation, COMPASS offers financial assistance and out-of-classroom opportunities (like the S-STEM conference) that prepare talented students from underrepresented minorities to join STEM graduate programs or to enter the STEM workforce. Over the years, many COMPASS scholars have been accepted into academic and professional programs. Co-Principal investigators for the COMPASS Program are Drs. Rita Hagevik (Biology) and Rachel Smith (Chemistry).