Angela Nietz: Learning — and teaching

Angela Nietz: Learning — and teaching

September 09, 2015
By Jeff Hansen
Meet Angie Nietz, who has discovered the thrill of teaching as an inaugural member of the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program.

Angie Nietz’s interest in neuroscience was triggered by a course in biopsychology at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, about the biological mechanisms that underlie behavior. She followed by going to the UAB Summer Program in Neuroscience (SPIN), which she found in an online list of summer opportunities for undergraduates looking to get experience in full-time neurobiology research. Now Nietz is a third-year UAB graduate student.

Her biopsychology class at St. Kate’s had triggered girlhood memories, she says, of the times she would ask her doctors, “How does cerebral palsy happen?” “I’ve looked into it a little bit,” Nietz said. “I even got some of my old medical records and read what the doctors said about me as a kid. They documented a lot of behaviors.”

Angie Nietz explains her passion for teachingThose records note that her parents had noticed Nietz could walk but could not sit up unaided at age 2. The diagnosis the doctors finally gave was cerebral palsy.

“It’s a blanket term that covers a wide range of motor and cognitive abnormalities,” the St. Paul native said. “I have trouble walking and have balance problems. I had a lot of surgery and physical therapy all the time while growing up.

“In physical therapy, I met a lot of kids with the same diagnosis,” Nietz said. “I wondered why some were wheelchair-bound and cognitively impaired, while I had only minor motor abnormalities.”

When she was 14, surgeons cut her femur and rotated the leg to point her foot in the correct direction. Nietz had to learn how to walk again. Classmates identified her by her gait. Much of the usual childhood physical activity was hard for her, and Nietz never learned to ride a bike. But her three older sisters and her parents never treated her walking and balance as a disability.

This summer, as an older graduate student in UAB’s Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program, Nietz taught NeuroLab Bench topics such as slicing fixed tissue, microscopic imaging, electrophysiology and optogenetics for the incoming first-year Roadmap Scholars, and she is looking forward to helping mentor the new students.

Nietz’s research mentor is Jacques Wadiche, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Neurobiology, who is interested in synaptic transmission — how neurons communicate at their most basic level.

Her Roadmap Scholar career coach is Matthew Goldberg, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Neurology, who studies the mechanisms of neuronal degradation in Parkinson’s disease. “We talk about my career path down the road,” Nietz said.

Learn more about the Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program in this feature