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On a Quest for Knowledge

Crown Honors student delves into research, peer education and campus activities that help her grow as a person.

Catherine Campbell outdoor portrait.
At home in California, Catherine Campbell was attracted to Syracuse University because of the opportunity to explore a new area of the country and her interests in science and research.

Catherine Campbell ’22 possesses a strong desire to learn—and it’s opened a world of new experiences for her. Whether she’s studying the interaction of proteins in a lab, leading a team of peer educators or hitting a Central New York hiking trail, her open-minded approach helps her take on challenges and gain an appreciation for the value of knowledge. “You are capable of so much more than you think,” says Campbell, a Renée Crown University Honors student who is majoring in chemistry (medicinal track) and physics in the College of Arts and Sciences . “You have to give yourself the opportunity to be uncomfortable and give yourself room to grow to realize how much you can actually do.”

A graduate of Chaminade College Preparatory High School in West Hills, California, Campbell saw enrolling at Syracuse University as an opportunity to start from scratch and explore a new environment 3,000 miles away from home. And she hasn’t been disappointed with how that decision has shaped her college experience. An aspiring physician, she’s been captivated by Honors courses in medicinal chemistry, science and philosophy, and physics—all of which have broadened her interests.

Originally a biology major, she became fascinated with chemistry and physics because of the relationship between the infinitesimal and macro scales, including how interactions at the micro level impact the big picture. “I’m just naturally curious,” Campbell says. “When you can look at the way the world works from a very small perspective, it gives you so much more of an appreciation for the large-scale things. The small-scale things are really what make up the fabric of everything we experience on a day-to-day basis.”

Examining Gene Expression Regulators

Through the Honors program, Campbell joined the laboratory of biochemist Alaji Bah at SUNY Upstate Medical University as a first-year student and has been there ever since. She’s involved in research examining gene expression regulators, focusing on intrinsically disordered proteins. These proteins help regulate the transcription of DNA—a process that, when disrupted, can lead to cancer and other diseases. “The way these proteins interact with each other and move around affects what genes are being regulated or expressed,” she says. “We’re looking at what factors allow these proteins to interact in a way that enables them to perform their function. If something is off in a cell and these proteins can’t interact properly, errors can occur in how genes are regulated.”

Campbell has received support for her research from the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement , as well as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in STEM fields. Last summer, Campbell was set to continue research in the lab as she had in summer 2019, but the pandemic squelched that opportunity. Undeterred, she undertook a research project virtually, studying the characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. She gained experience with computational modeling and programming and also participated in an online virology class where she learned how SARS-CoV-2 differs from other coronaviruses. “We were looking at the novel coronavirus and the properties of the proteins that it codes for,” she says.

Promoting Public Health

Student smiles for a photo in front of a poster presentation.
Catherine Campbell displays information about her research at a poster session hosted by the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement in November 2019.

On campus, Campbell has been active in the public health messaging campaign about COVID-19 through her role as a peer educator with the health promotion team in the Barnes Center at The Arch . “Since I’ve always been interested in health and wellness and want to be a doctor, I’m always excited to have an opportunity to speak to people about their health and to learn about practical, everyday health information that I can share with others,” she says. She became a peer educator as a sophomore, and this year she’s the peer education team leader for the Be Wise group, which focuses on helping students make safe, informed decisions about the use of alcohol and other drugs. “At the end of the day, I think everyone wants to be healthy,” she says. “They want to have fun and do what they want to do, but minimize the potential negative consequences of what they choose.”

This semester, as part of Be Wise, she launched the 21st Birthday Project, meeting with students a few days before they reach the legal drinking age in New York and providing strategies for having safer celebrations. Campbell also serves on the Barnes Center’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and leads the peer educator work group on that topic. She believes it’s important to create an inclusive environment for all students and wants everyone to feel comfortable meeting with well-trained and culturally competent peer educators. “That way you can have a really meaningful discussion,” she says.

Growing as a Leader

Campbell has thrived in her leadership roles, noting how her “adjustable style” allows her to assess situations and act accordingly. “It’s all about reading the room,” she says. As a first-year student, she explored her interests and opportunities, and as she became more involved in activities she took on more responsibilities over time. “I think you grow so much and learn so much about yourself when you are asked to take the lead on things, which is exciting and an honor,” she says. “It’s a great position to be in, even though it’s challenging.”

With all of her activities, Campbell enjoys the sense of community and appreciates the support of faculty and staff. She also finds support as a member of the Women of Color in STEM Career Preparation Program, a part of the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) group, and credits friends for introducing her to a range of new activities. She’s become fond of going on hikes and camping trips, as well as cooking, crafting and calligraphy. She was also delighted to break out her clarinet last year and play in the Syracuse University Concert Band . “It was super cool,” she says. For Campbell, it’s all part of her Syracuse experience—and she’s thankful to be able to embrace new endeavors purely for the sake of educating herself. “I just want to learn as much as I can while I’m here,” she says.

Jay Cox

This story was published on .

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