the following article was published, Talia Martin,
Shoshone Bannock, was a senior biomedical science
major at the University of Kansas (KU). She was one of
a growing number of students who bridged successfully
from Haskell Indian Nations University to the
University of Kansas.
Becoming a Scientist
“I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was 6 years old,” declares Martin. “My Mom read me lots of books about dinosaurs and other things that made me interested in science. When I got older I read on my own. I went to the library a lot with my Mom. I think that was the key to staying interested in school and other things going on in the world.”
“First I wanted to go into paleontology, then archeology. Eventually I wanted to be a medical doctor. I got side tracked though. Some of the time that I was at Shoshone-Bannock Junior-Senior High School, I wasn’t interested in doing anything besides basketball. After I graduated from high school in 2000, it was kind of hard to find my way.
“I took a year off and moved from my home in Fort Hall, Idaho to Scottsdale, Arizona where I have some family. While I was there I kept hearing from friends who were going to Haskell. They said there were opportunities to go from Haskell to KU, to begin at a small university and then go to a much bigger university. So I decided to go to Haskell.
At Haskell, Martin’s interest in the sciences were reawakened by the Bridges Program that helps prepare biomedical science students at Haskell to continue their studies at KU or another university. “I saw posters from the Bridges program that showed the research that people were doing. The Bridges coordinators got me excited, so in my sophomore year I joined the program. Deciding to go into the Bridges was probably one of the best decisions I made at Haskell. I sort of knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. The Bridges program helped me make those decisions.
“The Bridges Program funds you to conduct undergraduate research in a laboratory of your choice. I’ve been in the pharmaceutical chemistry department with Dr. Middaugh. He’s awesome and very supportive. He’s always busy, but whenever you have a question, he answers it. He’s also Native American. He introduced me to a graduate student, Jason Rexroad, who was working on a research project for a Valley Fever vaccine. I helped Jason on this project, which included studying the stability of the protein from the fungus that causes Valley Fever. We used spectroscopic techniques to monitor the stability of the protein in different physical conditions, such as temperature and pH.
“I met Dr. Middaugh through one of the seminars we had in the Bridges program. He talked about research with viruses, proteins, and gene therapy. He used to work at Merck Laboratories. All of that interested me because I wanted to be a medical doctor, and I liked both biology and chemistry.
“In other Bridges’ seminars we met a lot of other scientists (faculty members and postgraduate students). That was cool. It gives you ideas about what types of research people are doing.
“In my past work with Jason I ran some of my own tests, but the experiments were his. Now I have my own projects. I just finished one research project titled ‘The Biophysical Characterization and Empirical Phase Diagram of Bovine Serum Albumin.’ My project was focused on studying the biophysical lability of the protein, bovine serum albumin (BSA). Serum albumin is an important protein in the blood. Its many enzymatic functions, include maintaining the blood’s pH, and binding to various molecules. I used spectroscopic methods to characterize the biophysical structure of bovine serum albumin (BSA). BSA was used in this project as a model protein because of its ability to bind to many molecules, including drugs. The research I conducted in Dr. Middaugh’s lab is important to drug research because it is important to know a molecule’s physical stability in different environmental conditions.”
Martin wanted to present a poster on her research project at the October 2004, conference of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNUS), so she submitted an abstract. The abstract, which was critiqued on the basis of scientific merit and originality of research, was accepted. This meant that she was able to attend the conference along with other students from Haskell and KU. At the conference, Martin displayed her poster and discussed it with students and faculty and others from all over the U.S. who stopped by to look at it.
To her delight, Martin won the Best Student Poster Presentation in General Chemistry. Martin said that she enjoyed the conference so much that she’d like to go every year.
In the midst of her busy schedule, Martin somehow finds time to tutor students in chemistry, general biology, and math. “This helps me with my own studies,” she explains.” Tutoring gives Martin an opportunity to review these subjects, and it also lets her see if she has any holes in her learning.
Martin is an advocate for careers in the biomedical sciences. “Science is pretty broad. You can find pretty much anything you like,” she says. "Students can begin preparing themselves for the biomedical sciences in high school or sooner. I’ve been told by scientists and clinicians that in high school you can never have enough math,” says Martin. “You should also take required science classes as well as other science classes that interest you.”
Classes in the biosciences can be very challenging. “Don’t let challenges stop you,” Martin admonishes. “Go forward. You’ll feel good once you’ve met the challenges. Sometimes you’ll do things that you never thought you’d be able to do. The rewards are definitely worth all the effort.”
This article was first published in the Summer 2005 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is the late Roy Thomas, Ojibwa (1949-2004).
In May, 2007 Martin received a bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of Kansas, becoming the first person in her family to earn a four-year degree. She plans to earn a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry. She wants to work in the pharmaceutical industry, and she wants to work with American Indian communities to encourage others to study science.