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Undergraduate Programs

BMB Features: Rachel Swope

Image of Rachel Swope

The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department is proud to be called home to some of the most outstanding undergraduate students in higher education.  These students display a high level of dedication, not only in furthering their education but in their desire to be on the frontlines of scientific discovery.  

Meet one such student, Rachel Swope.  Rachel is a junior majoring in The Molecular and Cell Biology Option (MCB) of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and was recently named a Goldwater Scholar.

Rachel, a native of Doylestown Pennsylvania and alumni of Central Buck High School West, discovered her love of both science and research as part of an eighth-grade science fair.  The science fair, a requirement for her honors science class, was her first and as Rachel puts it “it didn’t pan out well.” Regardless she was hooked and joined her high school’s science research club.  Rachel has worked on bacteriophages with Cynthia Keler, a professor of biology at Delaware Valley University, and also spent two years as a research intern at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County.

Rachel chose to attend Penn State largely due to the funding the university devoted to research as well as the university’s emphasis on undergraduate research opportunities.  Currently she is a member of the Rolls Laboratory and studies the molecular mechanisms underlying axon and dendrite regeneration after laser injury in Drosophila.  “Understanding how nerve cells (neurons) react to and regenerate after damage in Drosophila can hopefully translate to a better understanding of how neurons respond to injury in other organisms, including humans”, said Rachel.  Currently she is working on a project, made possible as an Erickson Discovery Grant recipient, that seeks to understand how a neuron adds plasma membrane to a new axon as it regenerates.

Rachel has also been named a 2020 recipient of the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.  The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation provides scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, helping ensure that the United States continues to produce the number of highly-qualified professionals the Nation needs in these critical fields.  In addition, she was a recipient of both an Erickson Discovery Grant, as well as, the Ronald Venezie Scholarship in Science for Honors Education in 2019. 

Outside of the laboratory Rachel enjoys spending her time outside taking part in activities such as hiking and running.  She enjoys hiking so much that she has visited 24 different national parks over the past eight to nine years.  Due in large part to her work with Melissa Rolls, Rachel’s goal is to pursue her Ph.D. and become a research professor studying either neurological disorders or neurotropic viruses.  Her hope is that teaching will play a large roll in her future career.