April Dennis

April Dennis '16 Researches Alzheimer's Disease

What are you studying at Simmons?

Biology. I transferred to Simmons after getting my associate's degree in biology. I liked that the faculty at Simmons were actively doing research in their field and that students were involved in that research. 

What made you choose Simmons?

Simmons was the most welcoming campus I toured. I did multiple visits with admission to make sure that my classes would transfer and was able to sit in on a class that was required for my degree. A lot of the students reached out and wanted to talk to me about why they loved Simmons. I didn’t experience that when I was touring other schools, so Simmons really stood out.

Tell us about your SURPASs (Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Simmons) project. 

I’m working in Dr. Gray’s lab on the project: Curcumin and Neuronal Death in Models of Neurodegenerative Disease. Students before me have done work in the lab to figure out a possible mechanism of cell death in Alzheimer’s disease. My project focuses on creating a model of this cell death. The model can then be used to screen possible treatments. For the summer I’ve focused on curcumin as an inhibitor of this pathway, but I plan on using my model in the fall to rapidly screen other compounds.

What's the most rewarding part of your experience so far?

SURPASs has been a really empowering program. Because I’m the only student working on this project over the summer, all of the troubleshooting is my responsibility. I’ve written my own protocols and figured out how to work all of the equipment and kits that I use. I can’t rely on someone else's knowledge and it turns out that I don’t need to. You don’t get that sort of experience or confidence from doing group work in a planned lab activity.

What are the top 3 lessons you've learned from SURPASs?

  1. Take notes. You will forget what you are doing, what you wanted to do, or what you did. You will.
  2. To research is to look for an answer. Sometimes that answer is no.
  3. There are a lot of things that the internet doesn’t know, but you can figure those things out and then maybe put them on the internet — but only if you took good notes.

What's your favorite class you've taken so far?

Microbiology with Dr. Scott. It was the class I sat in on when I was in the process of choosing Simmons. Dr. Scott's a great lecturer and is able to tie biological concepts to real-world examples in a way that makes everything easier to learn.

Do you have a favorite spot on campus?

The whole library is my favorite spot. It’s always quiet and those big wooden tables set the studying mood for me. They seem really heavy and official. Props to whoever picked out those tables.

What's your Simmons moment?

SURPASs is my Simmons moment. I was given the resources to do my own research this summer — with as much or as little help as I needed. I can’t imagine being given this much responsibility and opportunity at any other school.

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