December 13, 2017

Confident senior ready for commencement, grad school

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alexa wade mentorAlexa Wade and mentor, Maigen BetheaIn high school, Alexa Wade yearned to attend college outside of her home state of Alabama.

But a National Achievement Scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corp. that would pay her tuition at any college in Alabama was too good to pass up. So she made her choice in-state — UAB.

As Wade prepares to march in the University of Alabama at Birmingham commencement this week, the graduating senior looks back at three-plus years in Birmingham with satisfaction.

“UAB was definitely the perfect place for me,” she said. “I feel that everything I’ve been working for, it’s all culminating.”

What did Wade find when she began college at UAB in 2014?

She found great teaching, such as Asim Kumar Bej, Ph.D., professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, who taught principles of DNA technology. “He is really passionate about his subject, and that just makes the teaching that much more exciting.” Also, Bej was always available to talk after class. “I tend to ask a lot of questions,” Wade said.

From Anil Kuma Challa, Ph.D., who taught a UAB Science and Technology Honors Program class on molecular biology, she found self-assurance. “Dr. Challa has a very infectious personality,” Wade said of the UAB School of Medicine Department of Genetics research instructor. “He gave of his time and is very supportive. He was influential in my having the confidence to join a research lab.”

Wade learned that UAB labs are welcoming. “UAB was a really good school to come to because all the labs are open to undergraduates, and not just to work in a lab and be a pair of hands, but to take over my own project,” she said.

Wade landed in the lab of Chad Hunter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Medicine Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, where she worked 20 to 30 hours a week. She also spent two summers doing full-time research.

“UAB was a really good school to come to because all the labs are open to undergraduates, and not just to work in a lab and be a pair of hands, but to take over my own project.”

In the Hunter lab, Wade also found an adept mentor — graduate student Maigen Bethea. “She basically taught me all the techniques I do now,” Wade said, skills like chromatin immunoprecipitation, western blots, immunofluorescence staining, small interfering RNA knockdowns and lots of cell culture.

“Maigen also helped me think about the project, about the questions I needed to ask and the papers I needed to read,” Wade said. Bethea also urged Wade to seek laboratory experiences where she would really enjoy the people she would work with. Wade has shared that advice with other undergraduates she talks to as a UAB undergraduate research ambassador.

At UAB, Wade, a student in the Science and Technology Honors Program, UAB Honors College, has been able to explore with her mind. “I have a curiosity about how things work,” she said. “I am really interested about the regulation of gene expression, and the steps of having a research question, and then following the question all the way through experiments to get the answer. Answers don’t come easily, but the trouble-shooting and the problem-solving are fun.”

Wade has applied to several graduate cell biology or genetics programs. While waiting for interviews in January or February, Wade will continue experiments in the Hunter lab and help draft a research paper.

But first comes her graduation this Saturday. Her family will be there to show their pride — parents Sherry and Kerwin Wade of Madison; sister Amber Wade, a student at UAH who spent a summer doing research at UAB; grandparents Vicky and Ellis Wade of Shreveport, Louisiana; and grandmother Pearline Gosa of Huntsville.