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Academics, Athletics, Research, and Beyond

| Katie Murphy

Mikayla Hady, from Mt. Auburn, Illinois, has always known she wanted to attend college in Wisconsin, where her parents are from. She had considered a few schools, but the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire (UWEC) felt like the right choice. From the excellent academic and running programs to the overall atmosphere of the city, Mikayla knew she had found her home for the next four years.

Mikayla has kept busy between her biochemistry and molecular biology major, neuroscience minor, and involvement in sports, clubs, and research, producing a fulfilling undergraduate experience.

Research is a prominent, high-impact practice available at UWEC and it’s something Mikayla has taken full advantage of. She has gained experience in a variety of fields and presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity (CERCA) and the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in New Orleans.

Her first research study was with Dr. Doug Matthews in the psychology department. They studied the correlations between alcohol use and aging using mouse and rat models.

On a different project with Dr. Michael Walsh, Mikayla was able to see a study all the way through and have her own project. The study focused on using vibrational spectroscopy, a type of light, to differentiate between healthy and cancerous tissue. This practice is used as a potential diagnostic tool for cancer. Mikayla looked specifically at kidney cancer in patients with diabetes and decided if their diagnostic techniques needed to be changed and if so, how they would be altered.

Talking about this study, Mikayla said, “that’s my baby… that is one of the few projects I’ve been able to see all the way through… and I love my images for it.”

Now working with Dr. Sanchita Hati in the biochemistry department, Mikayla is doing Raman spectroscopy work to decide if cancer could be diagnosed non-invasively with saliva. This research was presented at ACS and will be at the Provost’s Honors Symposium at CERCA under the title, “Use of Raman Spectroscopy as a Noninvasive Tool for Cancer Detection in Human Saliva.”

Prestigious Internship
Mikayla’s accomplishments in research haven’t only been on campus. In the summer of 2023, she had the opportunity to intern at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Maryland. With Dr. Katie Kindt as her Principal Investigator (PI) and Dr. Elizabeth Cebu as her mentor, she worked on research in otolaryngology, the field she has her sights set on. Otolaryngologists, typically known as ENT doctors, study the ears, nose, and throat.

Mikayla presented at the Summer Poster Day for NIH interns with her research titled, “Characterization of Damage Responses in Zebrafish Sensory Epithelia.” A zebrafish lateral line system was used “to understand the role of supporting cell responses to damaged hair cells.” By understanding connections between hair cells–which are integral to hearing–and the surrounding cells, the hearing loss process can be better understood and potential treatment strategies may be discussed.

Mikayla said, “getting that internship was a huge accomplishment and a huge step for my academic career.”

This opportunity is a big reason why her advice to any incoming freshman is to get to know professors and take advantage of networking opportunities. Dr. Scott Bailey-Hartsel, a retired chemistry professor at UWEC, had Dr. Katie Kindt as a student, giving Mikayla a leg up with the NIH and the field of otolaryngology. She stated that using your resources and networking is a crucial part of academia that can elevate your experience.

Excellence with Honors
Mikayla’s biochemistry, molecular biology major is especially focused, so having the ability to be in the Honors program and take electives outside of her career path has been exciting for her. She says the combination of unique topics and small class sizes allows her to get more out of her courses.

The classes she has taken have taught her about compassion, empathy, and social justice, which are incredibly important in her career; human interaction is a key component in the medical field but is oftentimes omitted from science courses. Additionally, Mikayla has been able to advance her writing skills, something she said is not her strong suit.

A few notable Honors courses for her have been Vampires with Professor Sarah White and British Humor with Professor Jackie Bailey-Hartsel, each of which involved engaging films and discussions. Mikayla and her roommate still quote some of the movies they watched together. She says she really enjoyed “just getting to have fun with them.”

Club, Scholarship, and Sport Involvements
Being a part of the Pre-Professional Health Club on campus has had a positive influence on Mikayla, especially because her family doesn’t have background in the medical field. She has felt more at ease being surrounded by others going through the same transition as her.

Mikayla is also a recipient of the Blugold Biomedical Innovator Scholarship, which is awarded to only a few students. Through this she has had many more opportunities to work with doctors and to understand the various aspects of the medical world.

Mikayla was also part of the cross country and track and field teams for 3 years. She was impressed by the school’s long-distance coach, Dan Schwamberger, as well as the team atmosphere, making it an easy decision to join the team.

The accomplishment she is most proud of during her time as a Blugold athlete was qualifying for nationals in the cross country 6k, a race very different from her typical 800m in track and field. This difference, in combination with taking the prior year off, made this an even more exciting and meaningful feat for Mikayla.

As she reflects on her final season, she says the team provided “my best memories. I love our team here.”

Moving Toward Great Things
If Mikayla could tell her freshman self anything, it would be this: “You really learn you're not the biggest fish anymore. And sometimes the plan doesn't work out,” but it will all work out in the end.

Her goal for the future is to obtain her MD-PHD in otolaryngology, allowing her to split her time between the lab and the clinic. Until that time, Mikayla hopes to gain experience through a post baccalaureate program working in a lab or a clinical job.