Monday, August 9, 2010

Shameika Wilmington was a ball of academic clay when she arrived at the University of Iowa in 2003.

Then along came the Iowa Biosciences Advantage (IBA) program. IBA molded the Davenport native into a self-assured scholar who is currently finishing her second year as a graduate student in biochemistry at Northwestern University.

“Hands down, without IBA there is no way I would be in graduate school at Northwestern,” said Wilmington, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry at the UI in 2008. “I attribute my peak interest in science to that program. Before IBA I didn’t even know what research was. I had no idea what it meant to be in a lab.”

IBA opened that lab door for Wilmington and gave her the confidence to walk in. During her freshman year, she took her first step by joining the lab of Pamela Geyer, professor of biochemistry in the Carver College of Medicine.

“As an undergraduate in a lab, you usually start by washing dishes,” Wilmington joked.

Wilmington quickly became a major contributor in Geyer’s lab, which uses fruit flies as a model organism to understand human development and disease mechanisms. Despite being an undergraduate, she was able to publish her work as a contributing author and may possibly be a lead author on future publications.

Her first published paper was as a second author. She remembers that day like yesterday.

“I could finally type my name into PubMed,” Wilmington said. “It’s awesome to see your hard work come to fruition. Great is not a large enough word to express how I felt.”

Wilmington’s accomplishments don’t stop with published papers.

IBA encourages its students to attend research conferences and will fund their trips if they are giving oral or poster presentations.

In 2005, Wilmington attended the ABRCMS national conference in Atlanta, Ga., and won an award for the best poster presentation in biochemistry. The next year, Wilmington was selected to give an oral presentation at the ABRCMS conference in Anaheim, CA.

“It was my first oral presentation in front of a crowd this large and I was super nervous talking about my research,” Wilmington said. “After a bit, I saw my mentor, Pamela Geyer and Jodi Linley (IBA assistant director) , who had a big smile on her face. That made me more confident to see them. It was very comforting to see supportive faces in the crowd. At the end of the conference, I learned that I had won an award for the best oral presentation in biochemistry. It was amazing, I felt fantastic!”

Having Geyer and Linley in attendance offering emotional support was par for the course.

“IBA does so much that they don’t even have to do,” Wilmington said. “It is really a great program to be a part of, and I am so grateful for each opportunity they have given me.”