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School of Science biology graduate student receives prestigious Sherry Queener Graduate Student Excellence Award

Kirstin VanderWall at ARVO convention

INDIANAPOLIS -- Kirstin VanderWall didn't originally plan on becoming a research scientist, her first career choice was actually an athletic trainer. Her interest in biology would take her on a different path, eventually leading her to IUPUI's School of Science.

"I've always just been intrigued by biology," said VanderWall. "Trying to understand how we are the way we are is very interesting to me and how our cells are doing all these things."

Kirstin VanderWall doing lab work"I googled stem cells in Indianapolis and Jason Meyer's lab popped up," said Vanderwall.  Jason Meyer, Ph.D., is an associate professor of medical and molecular genetics at the School of Medicine, and former associate professor of biology at the School of Science. After her internship, Meyer, who was impressed with her work, invited VanderWall to apply for the Ph.D. program.

Now, her hard work over the last four years has paid off, she is recipient of the prestigious Sherry Queener Graduate Student Excellence Award. The award honors former Associate Dean,  Sherry Queener, Ph.D., and her many contributions while leading the Graduate School at IUPUI.

VanderWall's journey to becoming a research scientist began at Olivet College in Michigan. Her sophomore year she did a summer abroad at Oxford where she had her first experience with human induced pluripotent stem cells, cells she would come to know very well. The following year would lead her to a summer internship at IUPUI after her husband got a job in Indianapolis.

Poster presentation

VanderWall began her graduate career May 2016 and every day she put in her best researching retinal ganglion cells, the main cell that makes up the retina allowing you to see and how those cells degenerated into glaucoma, causing blindness. Her work impressed the IUPUI Fellowship Committee, who received VanderWall's application for the Sherry Queener Award. The committee says they were impressed with the breadth of accomplishments and VanderWall's growth as a student as shown by her Ph.D. dissertation.

Her dissertation, which she successfully defended in February, focused on glaucoma and how it impacts vision. "This research will help our understanding the loss of vision associated with glaucoma. Additionally, this research will provide novel insights into future treatments and drug therapeutics for glaucoma," said VanderWall.

"I really dedicated 8 hours of my day, 5 days a week, 6 days a week for the past four years and put a lot of hard work into my projects and making sure that my projects came through to publications and that I was doing good science and good research. "

VanderWall credits Meyer in her success, by being a great mentor and pushing his students not only in their research, but also presenting that research, making sure they understand it and can explain it clearly to others.

VanderWall will graduate in May, she has already started her career at Eli Lilly as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist.

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