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Catherine E. Vrentas Selected as Student Marshal for Penn State Eberly College of Science

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Catherine E. Vrentas of State College, Pennsylvania, will be honored as the Eberly College of Science student marshal during spring commencement ceremonies on 17 May 2003 at the Penn State University Park campus.

Vrentas, who will complete a major in biochemistry and molecular biology, was selected to represent her class because of her outstanding academic record. During her undergraduate years at Penn State, she earned a 4.0 grade-point average. In addition to her achievements in the classroom, Vrentas has earned numerous scholarships and awards. She was honored with the 2002 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the Braddock Scholarship, the Paul Berg Summer Research Award from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Evan Pugh Award, the President Sparks Award, the President's Freshman Award, and the Boeing Water Quality Scholarship. She also achieved membership in the National Dean's List, the Golden Key honor society, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Vrentas has been working in the lab of David Gilmour, associate professor of molecular and cell biology, since the summer of 2000. Her research there investigated the characteristics of genes involved in building extended molecules of the genetic material RNA--a process known as transcriptional elongation. During the summer of 2002, she worked as an intern at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)--where she participated in research on the regulation of transcription by chromatin, the structural material of the gene-containing chromosomes--and presented this research at the NIH Summer 2002 Poster Day. She says of her experience at Penn State, ”The techniques and methods that Dr. Gilmour has taught me while I have been completing my undergraduate research have provided a foundation for my future research. Also, work in his lab has shown me how research into fundamental biological processes can have far-reaching implications for our understanding of human disease. I also have enjoyed working as a teaching assistant for Dr. Ross Hardison, professor of biochemistry. Both professors have always been positive and encouraging of me.” In the summer of 2001, she participated in the Tropical Field Biology course taught in Costa Rica, which she says was a “great experience that enabled me to branch out and learn about a different field of biology as well as a different country.”

Vrentas’ selection as student marshal is one of the highlights of her college career. ”I was very excited to hear that I received this honor, especially since I have enjoyed my time here at Penn State very much. One of the best things about my years at Penn State is that I have been able to gain both classroom and practical research experience in my major while simultaneously participating in the diversity of activities and events the university has to offer. These opportunities have allowed me to swim in a synchronic meet one weekend and work in my molecular genetics lab the next,” says Vrentas, who for the past four years she been a member of the Synchronized Swimming club and currently is its president. She earned the Academic All-American status from the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Collegiate Coaches Committee and has been a participant in several additional extracurricular activities. She has been a member of the Undergraduate Student Government and was a tour guide and student panelist for the Eberly College of Science. She was a member of the Penn State Quiz Bowl team and participated in the TV show, Jeopardy. She has coached the State College Area High School Science Olympiad team, was a mentor for the Action Potential science camps at Penn State, and was an interview judge for the regional Academic Decathlon. She also was a volunteer at the Clearwater Conservancy, helping with watershed monitoring.

A graduate of State College Area High School, Vrentas will be accompanied at graduation by her parents, James and Christine Vrentas of State College, and her sister, Jenny, who is a freshman major in biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State. Her father is the Dow Professor of Chemical Engineering and her mother is an adjunct professor of chemical engineering, both at Penn State. Vrentas has selected David Gilmour, associate professor of associate professor of molecular and cell biology, to be her faculty escort for the commencement exercises.

Vrentas plans to continue doing research in the field of molecular genetics in graduate school starting in the fall of 2003. “I become particularly excited about research when I can see how it fits into the "big picture" of generalized mechanisms and/or disease treatments. The two areas of molecular genetics I have become especially interested in are elongation, due to my research project, and chromatin structure, due to a seminar I completed on the subject.” Gilmour says, “I have no doubt Cathy will be a fantastic graduate student, and will in all likelihood become a leader in whatever field she chooses to pursue. She has a brilliant mind, is enthusiastic about science, is tenacious in her effort to do experiments, and is independent. She is also a well-rounded individual.”

[ Suchitra Haritsa ]

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