Undergraduate research experience at K-State inspires alumnus’s career

Students in chemical engineering measure the concentration of acetone at different heights as it evaporates and rises up a PVC tube in Transport Phenomena Lab in Durland Hall. The Johnson Cancer Center is another area on campus where students can get research experience. (File photo by Parker Robb | Collegian Media Group)

Since her freshman year, Jazmine Snow, a Kansas State alumna, has been researching the human papillomavirus. Snow graduated with a degree in microbiology in 2018.

Initially, she applied to K-State for musical education. During orientation and enrollment, she switched to microbiology.

“I knew I wanted to do research,” she said. “I had done a few research things in high school that I realized ‘Yeah, this is something I would really enjoy doing.’”

Her advisor told her that she should join a lab to get ahead of the game — so she joined Nicholas Wallace’s lab, assistant professor of biology, her spring semester of freshman year. Wallace’s lab is located in Chalmers Hall and is a part of the Johnson Cancer Center.

The Johnson Cancer Center has helped Snow with undergraduate research through various scholarships. The center awards $40,000 worth of scholarships a year — each award at $1,500.

“We are aiming for $50,000 this year,” Dr. Sherry Fleming, professor of biology and director of the Johnson Cancer Center, said.

Wallace said Snow was very productive for an undergraduate, which paved the way for her to receive multiple scholarships from the center.

Snow said her favorite part of the research is learning new things and finding answers to questions that previously had no answers.

“Getting a piece of data that other labs or journals didn’t know is really satisfying,” she said.

The experiments she is currently conducting are a part of the third publication she has been part of through Wallace’s lab. In November, Snow was the first author on a publication that was a continuation of previous work from the lab.

“Research is never completely new, it’s always built off of other observations,” Wallace said.

Most people know HPV as a cause of cervical cancer in females, however, in the U.S., males are most likely to develop a form of head and neck cancer from the virus.

“The rates of death are higher in these head and neck cancers because for cervical cancers we have pap smears, but for head and neck cancer there is no preventative, which means dentists usually find these cancers,” Snow said.

When she was an undergraduate, Snow had the opportunity to present her research in Topeka.

“We got to talk to local politicians about science happening at K-State,” she said.

Her undergraduate research played a big role in her post-graduate decision.

“Research as an undergrad really shaped my whole career and shaped my success as an undergraduate student,” she said.

After working full time in the lab for almost a year, Snow is hoping to start a doctoral program in cancer research in August. She is currently in the decision-making process about which school to attend for her post-grad.