Best of Both Worlds

Kathy Schaefer’s research opens doors for students

Kathy Schaefer and Puspa Thapa '10

Kathy Schaefer, associate professor of biology,  watches Puspa Thapa '10 as she isolates spermtogonial cells.

In the small laboratory in Martin Science Building, Puspa Thapa ’10 carefully adjusts the new digital imaging system attached to the microscope. “See that?” her biology professor Kathy Schaefer asks as she points to the cells that are now clear on the screen. “Those are the spermatogonial cells you are trying to isolate.”

Thapa heads off to redo the procedure, knowing that trial and error are as much a part of the scientific process as the end result. An honors student, Thapa is gaining experience normally reserved for graduate students—and working side-by-side with Schaefer on research studying stem cells and vasculature formation.

“Here, we give students real laboratory research experience,” Schaefer said. “They have close interactions with their professors, and they develop good laboratory skills that will serve them well in graduate school. That’s how I wanted to interact with students when I became a professor.”

Schaefer will have even more to offer her students next year. Selected to serve as a visiting scholar in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, Schaefer will spend the spring semester working in a top research laboratory—an experience she knows will help her as she mentors future scientists at Randolph College.

In addition to the opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment, Schaefer’s appointment will allow her to further her own research and pursue opportunities for publication. Since graduate school, Schaefer has studied what makes stem cells turn into blood vessel cells.

While at Randolph College, she and her students have studied stem cells from quail embryos to determine what makes them go from a non-differentiated cell to a blood vessel cell.

This year, she is mentoring honors students who are using both quail and mice stem cells to continue the same line of research.

“If we can learn how cells in our animal models turn into blood vessel cells, we could do the same with human cells,” Schaefer said. Schaefer will assist in similar research that is currently being conducted at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana— research that Schaefer knows could have significant impact on the fight against heart disease. When she returns to Randolph College, Schaefer will be able to use the data generated during her visiting professorship in the experiments she and her students conduct here.

“This experience will aid in my own research, but it will also help me share more knowledge with students that will prepare them for when they enter grad school and eventually conduct their own research.”

Priyanka Uprety ’10 is another Randolph College student who credits Schaefer for providing a solid foundation in research. She plans to purse a doctorate degree in biomedical research. “Dr. Schaefer has so much passion and dedication for what she does,” Uprety said. “This has helped me discover my own passion for research.”

Puspa Thapa examines her cell sampleRandolph College offers students the opportunity for high tech research and the benefits of a small college. “I feel like I have the best of both worlds,” Uprety said. “You never get lost in the crowd here, and I have the opportunity to be involved in extremely interesting cutting-edge research, too.”

In Thapa’s case, her work with Schaefer has changed her life path. The opportunity to do so much laboratory work at Randolph College caused her to decide to pursue a career as a scientist rather than a medical doctor. “It’s just so amazing how important science is to us,” she said. “I have realized that the knowledge one can get from research is infinite. There is so much to learn and so many ways we can make our contribution to help improve the lives of people.

“Dr. Schaefer is very passionate about teaching and helping students understand the value of research,” Thapa added. “That one-on-one interaction I have had with her is one of the most valuable experiences I will take from this College.”