Molecular Genetics major awarded coveted NIH Fellowship

Roger Coda
student in front of whiteboard with research information

Emilee Stenson, in front of a white board containing bacteria formation data for a microbiology class.

Within weeks of being awarded a B.S. in Molecular Genetics from SUNY Fredonia in May, Emilee Stenson will embark on a new education journey – a two-year research training program with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.

Ms. Stenson, a 2017 graduate of Attica (N.Y.) Central Senior High School, has been accepted into the NIH’s Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Program through the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

“This is a very competitive program that will expose her to cutting edge research and approaches to addressing the challenges facing the healthcare system in the 21st century,” said Department of Biology Associate Professor Scott Ferguson. The NIH is the largest funding agency for biomedical research and its intramural training program has produced numerous luminaries in diverse areas of science.

Stenson indicated the fellowship will provide an opportunity for her to continue to develop into an intersectional, interdisciplinary physician-scientist. “The lab I was accepted into works in rare diseases and focuses on marginalized communities, which is an excellent combination of my interests in health disparities and genetics,” she said.

Stenson will serve in the lab of Pravitt Gourh, M.D., a Henry Metzger Scholar in Translational Medicine at the NIAMS, an assistant clinical investigator and attending physician on the NIH Rheumatology Consulting Service. While computer work will be done from home, Stenson’s research in the lab will be an in-person experience, with some modifications.

“I’m very excited to be able to work in-person and gain this experience,” Stenson said.

Stenson’s lab focuses on the genetics of African American scleroderma, a skin disease that causes the chronic tightening and hardening of skin. Although her project hasn’t yet been finalized, Stenson anticipates examining the genetic basis, clinical aspects and epidemiology of the disease.

“I’m looking forward to learning from and working with Dr. Gourh and to all of the knowledge and experiences I’ll gain! I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity and for all the support that Fredonia has given me to reach this point,” Stenson said.

Experience Stenson will gain from the NIH will complement the research training that she was first exposed to at Fredonia, said Dr. Ferguson, Stenson’s academic adviser. “As one of Fredonia's finest students I have no doubt that she is uniquely positioned to excel at the NIH as well as in medical school,” he said.

Fredonia has provided Stenson with the opportunity to complete research in both the sciences and humanities. It’s been “incredibly exciting,” Stenson explained, to be able to gain new experience in these areas and also combine them. Stenson worked on cancer biology and genetics, focusing on defects during cell division, and has also done research on English novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, gender and racial disparities and grief in medicine.

“Although these may not necessarily relate directly to scleroderma, my research in the sciences has taught me to develop experiments, analyze data, troubleshoot and devise next steps, while my research in the humanities has taught me intersectionality, social justice, advocacy and critical analysis and writing,” explained Stenson, who has conducted research with Department of Biology Assistant Professor Nicholas Quintyne and Department of English Professor Jeanette McVicker.

Stenson, a member of the campus’ Health Professions Club and Beta Beta Beta, the national honor society in biological sciences, has been a longtime advocate of a more intersectional approach to medicine. In fact, that’s been a passion of hers, so being able to work in the field directly will be an incredible learning experience, Stenson said.

“The research I’ve done at Fredonia has cultivated strong skills and a desire to pursue this path – many thanks to Dr. Quintyne and Dr. McVicker!”

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