Rachel Swope, a junior majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB) option, has been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The scholarship is among the most competitive honors in the country for undergraduates in the sciences and mathematics. The foundation awards 300 students from across the country with the $7,500 scholarship each year.
Swope, a graduate of Central Buck High School West in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, discovered her love of science and research during her first science fair, which was a requirement for her honors science class in eighth grade. “When it came to researching and selecting a topic, I came up with all of these crazy ideas that, quite frankly, made no sense and that I didn’t have the resources or know-how to do!” said Swope. “As you can probably imagine, this didn’t pan out well.”
In spite of the outcome, she was hooked. She first joined her high school’s science research club and then set her sights on other opportunities within the community. Swope spent time working on bacteriophages with Cynthia Keler, a professor of biology at Delaware Valley University, and then spent two years as a research intern investigating liver cancer and the hepatitis B virus at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County.
Swope was drawn to Penn State largely due to the University’s emphasis on undergraduate research opportunities. She wasted little time beginning her own undergraduate research career and currently works under the supervision of, Paul Berg Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Melissa Rolls. The Rolls Laboratory investigates the process by which neurons generate axons and dendrites with different functions and constituents, and how they maintain function over the lifetime of an animal.
Swope studies how axons and dendrites in Drosophila regeneration after injury. “Understanding how Drosophila 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 Swope. Currently she is working on a project made possible by an Erickson Discovery Grant where she is investigating how a neuron adds plasma membrane to a new axon as it regenerates.
Outside of the laboratory Swope enjoys spending her time hiking, running and being outside in general. 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, Swope’s goal is to pursue a 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.
About the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as both a solider and a statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate. The Goldwater Scholarship helps ensure that the U.S. is producing highly qualified professionals that the nation needs in the fields of natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Over its 30-year history, thousands of undergraduates have received scholarships, many of whom have gone on to win other prestigious awards like the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship, the Rhodes Scholarship, the Churchill Scholarship, and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.