From magic wands to microbes: Baylor students conduct unique research in and out of the lab

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Amanda Hargett-Granato

Research at Baylor takes many forms and only sometimes takes place while wearing a lab coat. Current undergraduate research spans from the social sciences to laboratory work, and students from all fields are able to take part.

For her senior thesis, Belton senior Melissa Montgomery is developing a curriculum using “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” to teach students several sociology concepts to help them learn sociology.

“The thing that really caught my attention the most, especially within ‘The Deathly Hallows,’ is you can really see the parallels of how J.K. Rowling is using the series to show how she sees the world,” Montgomery said. “It kind of reminded me about a lot of race relations we have going on.”

Minoring in educational psychology, Montgomery said she enjoys being able to combine both of her interests into one project.

“I always knew education was where I needed to be,” Montgomery said. “I really want to do a doctorate in the sociology of education. It’s a really nice blend, and I’m getting both sides of the story.”

Using her knowledge of both sociology and the wizarding world, Montgomery is taking basic sociology concepts and breaking them up into five units with relevant reading material from J.K. Rowling’s seventh book.

“For something that is so creative, it was a lot more research than I thought,” Montgomery said. “It was pulling a lot of literature from way out there and bringing that into a more specific sociological focus. I learned so much and just reading abstracts was able to shape my project.”

On the natural science side, El Paso senior Danielle Natividad stands over a stack of bacteria-streaked petri dishes, making notes about the size, shape and appearance of each small colony. She is working in Dr. Diane Hartman’s microbiology lab, beginning her semester-long research into Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, commonly known as MRSA.

“Actually, I was kind of scared of research – everyone always gives it a bad rep,” Natividad said. “I was just going to go for it and see what there was to offer. I ended up just really loving it. I really love Dr. Hartman, and I really loved what she was doing.”

Despite her initial concerns about research, Natividad said that finding a job in research now sounds like fun. Although the research is in its very early stages this semester, the project is an ongoing one for Hartman and the project intends to keep tabs on the ratio of the Baylor population that harmlessly carries MRSA and staph in their nose as compared to the general population.

“Over the years, we’ve given so many antibiotics that MRSA has become resistant to them, and we can’t use Methicillin to kill it,” Natividad said. “We give out antibiotics like we give out candy, so we need to work on that.”

Natividad had previously worked in the lab with Hartman in her ‘Small World Initiative’ course, working to test soil samples for antibiotic potential. This time around, Natividad’s work is more hands-on, requiring her to help make the growth medium for the bacteria and to set up the groundwork for the project.

“This is [research] on a deeper level,” Natividad said. “Actually making the media and collecting samples from the students feels more behind-the-scenes, which is more fun to me.”