Pre-med student places first and receives grant in PA science conference


Christina Judy, Staff writer

Biology Pre-Med student and Erie native, Kara Hill, was awarded first place in the oral presentations category for the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences (PAS) conference that occurred on March 18.
The conference was very competitive as there were participants from 31 colleges across Pennsylvania enrolled to present their research projects.
As Hill said, “the other presentations that I saw were very well done. I was simply grateful to go and experience it.”
Hill is a junior at Mercyhurst University and has been mentored by Rajinikanth Mohan, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor of biology, while partaking in research.
Her research project and presentation was on the inhabitants of a clavarioid coral mushroom, specifically on the bacteria colonizing the specimen which was collected from the Allegheny National Forest.
The coral mushroom was gathered by other members in her research group but ultimately she was offered the responsibility to take the lead on the project.
Her love for microbiology fueled her excitement and curiosity as she examined the relationship between the coral mushroom and the bacteria that reside in it.
Although Kara’s work is specific and focused, she hopes to find a way to apply her beneficial discoveries to the agricultural industry.
In the PAS presentation, she shared her results, which suggest that the bacteria found on the coral mushroom are capable of growing in freezing conditions and infecting the fungus because of the possibility that they are opportunistic pathogens.
In addition to her presentation preparation, Hill busied herself with writing a research proposal, which applied for a grant that would allow her to study the effects of phthalates on microorganisms.
She was rewarded a $700 undergraduate research grant to continue this line of research, which she is very passionate about.
Her remarks in response to her winnings included that “my hope is that this is a win not just for me, but for our whole department. I hope that it shows how our whole lab group is supportive of each other, hard working and passionate about science.”
Her gratitude and humility in receiving her recognition extends to the members of the Mercyhurst community who has helped her with this project. She would like to bring attention to Dr. Mohan, Sydnie Rager, Kaitlyn Stroscio, Isabella Foriska and Christina Judy, who helped her in her research process.
Additionally, she wants to relay congratulations to fellow research member Jason Rettger who was awarded a $700 undergraduate research grant at PAS for his research project.
Kara views research as an incredible opportunity because of the support and encouragement she receives from Dr. Mohan and his group of research students.
Under his guidance, Hill has felt inspired to be independent and confident in conducting experiments, and encouragement to always stay curious.
She couples her time in the microbiology lab with her job as a Phlebotomist at Saint Vincent Hospital to help prepare her in her pursuit to become a doctor.
She hopes to translate these qualities to her medical school and career path. She has developed a passion for the medical field that stems from a personal experience she endured in her childhood.
She takes her next step on this journey in May when she attempts the MCAT exam!
After that, her ambitions are to apply to DO schools as well as LECOM’s podiatry program.
Be sure to congratulate Kara if you see her around campus!