Kennesaw State alumna pursues biomedical research through NIH program

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 10, 2021

Jade Lugo
Jade Lugo

Jade Lugo became a researcher almost by accident. Now, the Kennesaw State 2021 biochemistry graduate has secured a postbaccalaureate research position with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Lugo, who had pursued several majors before deciding that she wanted to be a neuroscientist, will participate in NIH’s Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award program, which allows college graduates pursuing advanced degrees to spend one to two years conducting biomedical research with leading NIH scientists.

Working in the National Institute on Aging’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology and Immunology (LMBI) in Maryland, Lugo will study the mechanics of the cellular process and how it contributes to age-related changes in physiology, including the development of age-related diseases such as cancer.

“This award has put me one step closer to achieve my goal of becoming a neuroscientist,” said Lugo. I’m excited to be immersed in a very knowledgeable and motivating community at the National Institutes of Health.”

During her early years at KSU, Lugo’s idea of research was primarily informed by her time in her general lab classes, but as she got further along in her program, she became interested in more complex research. She secured a position as a research assistant on several projects, including neuroscience work under the mentorship of Kimberly Cortes, associate professor of chemistry education.  

Over the past academic year, working in collaboration with KSU’s BrainLab, Lugo along with Cortes’ team used biometrics such as EEG and eye-tracking data to understand how students process information.

“Our main goal was to decrease the cognitive load of students so we could focus on their working memory to establish how they learn critical information,” Lugo said. “This research provided me the opportunity to analyze data and to work collaboratively with other researchers.”

She completed her senior capstone class with Carol Chrestensen, professor of chemistry, and her most formative experiences in that course forever changed how she viewed research. The class worked with a certain protein, devising experiments to gain access to the functionality of the protein. For Lugo, this was a departure from the by-the-book aspects of her earlier lab experiences.

“The capstone course provided a challenging and realistic experience in a professional lab setting,” she said. “It taught me that in a lab, troubleshooting is vital, and critical thinking is essential.”

Impressed with Lugo’s work in class, Chrestensen said she was more than happy to offer a recommendation when Lugo sought letters of support for her application to the postbaccalaureate program at the NIH.

“Jade stood out in our senior biochemistry course, was engaged in the material, was prepared for lab, was a careful experimentalist, and asked lots of questions,” Chrestensen said.

Lugo is looking forward to the opportunities she will have working in NIH’s interdisciplinary research environment, which will prepare her in pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

“Using my experience from different types of research labs as a foundation, I would like to tailor my expertise to my particular interest: the brain,” Lugo said. “The NIH is an excellent place to learn imaging techniques, gain a better understanding of neural systems, and collaborate with highly skilled experts to develop my own long-term research goals.”

Jacob Segura

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