Mansfield Biochemistry Major Awarded NASA PSGC Scholarship

Micah Yoder with his lab partner Quinn Harkrider, a student at James Madison University

MANSFIELD, PA – Commonwealth University-Mansfield senior biochemistry major, Micah Yoder, was awarded a NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium (PSGC) Scholarship to continue research on heart disease with Dr. Maegen Borzok. The PSGC supports innovative ideas related to authentic, hands-on student experiences through its statewide mini-grant program.

“In his research, Yoder will specifically assess the mechanism by which arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (ACM) disrupts cellular adhesion using a cells culture model,” Borzok said. (ACM is a defect in proteins that connect heart muscle cells (myocytes) causing the cells to die. They are replaced by scar tissue and fatty cells.) “He also plans to evaluate molecular strategies to ameliorate deficits in cellular adhesion.”

The grant requires a minimum of 10 hours of community outreach. To fulfill the requirement, Yoder will mentor students at Wellsboro Area High School who are interested in pursuing real-world research opportunities. According to Yoder, the mentorship is going well. “The students love the hands-on experience that they’re getting in lab outside of the normal classroom setting,” he said.

In addition to receiving a NASA PSGC scholarship, Yoder also participated in a research experience for undergraduates (REU) program at James Madison University both this summer and the summer of 2020. The 10-weeklong program concluded with a symposium where students presented their research. In the program, Yoder researched the protein, obscurin, which is significantly implicated in breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers that begins in the cells that line organs.

Yoder attributes much of his interest in biochemistry and academic opportunities he has taken to the support of Borzok. “One of the greatest lessons she (Borzok) taught me was how to overcome the doubt many scientists struggle with,” Yoder said. “Her warmth and reassurance allowed me to feel confident and assured in the field I am pursuing.”

“I didn’t know what specific STEM field I wanted to pursue until I took Dr. Borzok’s general education course, ‘How Drugs Work’ class,” continued Yoder. “I was a biology major at the time, and I would frequent Dr. Borzok’s office hours to ask her questions and talk more in-depth about the biochemistry we were only able to graze over in lecture.” In the spring of his freshman year, Yoder joined Dr. Borzok’s research lab.

The prospect for close academic relationships with professors was what drew Yoder to Mansfield. “When I visited, I knew this would be the best place for me to grow and excel. I immediately felt welcomed by the faculty and knew they would do anything to help their students succeed and find their respective journey in life,” Yoder said.

After graduation, Yoder will pursue a doctorate degree in a biochemistry-related field like molecule medicine and disease research. While still unsure of the specific program, he knows that he wants to continue research similar to what he is working on now.